Renegade: Will scratch your Hunger Games itch

Renegade by J.A. Souders fantasy book reviewsRenegade by J.A. Souders

Tolstoy wrote “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I find that with dystopian literature, every unhappy society is alike. There is a good argument to be made that modern literature has two main strands of dystopian literature, what we could refer to as the Orwellian strand and the Huxley strand, and YA dyslit follows that same trend. Renegade falls into the Orwellian/HUNGER GAMES camp with an authoritarian central government that controls every aspect of the citizens’ lives. For those who read political philosophy, there are definite echoes of Plato’s Republic echoing through this story, as could probably be said of much dystopian literature.

Any genre has the limitations of the field it has to work within, however. Where Renegade strikes an original note is the degree to which government thought control has evolved. Beyond Orwell’s Newspeak, J.A. Souders explores the way modern psychology and pharmacology allow for actual thought control. Souders excels in depicting the degree to which characters have been affected by the government with a creepy realism that leaves the reader chilled and wondering what the actuality of the system is. But the problem with brainwashing as a plot device is that it allows the author to get away with some glaring problems in worldbuilding which the characters all ignore because they have been brainwashed to do so. There are also some minor lapses in this story that are the equivalent of props getting moved between takes that, while not horrible, are a little distracting.

There is a definite HUNGER GAMES /run for your life/gratuitous violence element to Renegade that will appeal to fans of THE HUNGER GAMES, though Renegade lacks the creativity of the violence in Collins’ series. Mother makes for a more interesting villain however, because the overt evil shows up much sooner in this book than it does in the HUNGER GAMES books. This is necessary because the evil is much more centralized than systematic in this series. I have a major problem with Mother though. It’s a small spoiler, so if you want to read it, highlight the following text: Mother is crazy. Like, full on psychotic break crazy. Insane villains aren’t really interesting to me because while it’s an easy way to justify any action they take, it’s also an easy way to justify anything they do, without having to worry about explaining their motivation. Just like protagonists, villains need to be internally coherent, so I think insanity diminishes that ability to be interesting. [End spoiler]

Renegade is an entertaining read for YA readers, and for adult fans of dystopian literature. The relationship between Evelyn and Gavin is sweet and endearing, though of course it develops quickly as most bonds do under pressure. This is the first book in the ELYSIUM CHRONICLES and, with the cliff they are left hanging off at the end of Renegade, it will be interesting to see how the pair develops as a couple.

Since the age of three, sixteen-year-old Evelyn Winters has trained to be Daughter of the People in the underwater utopia known as Elysium. Selected from hundreds of children for her ideal genes, all her life she’s believed that everything is perfect. Her world. Her people. The Law.  But when Gavin Hunter, a Surface Dweller, accidentally stumbles into Elysium’s secluded little world, Evelyn comes to a startling realization: Everything she knows is a lie. Her memories have been altered. Her mind and body aren’t under her own control. And the person she knows as Mother is a monster. Together with Gavin she plans her escape, only to learn that her own mind is a ticking time bomb… and Mother has one last secret that will destroy them all.

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RUTH ARNELL is a professor of political science in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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4 comments

  1. Severian /

    Professor Arnell? You moonlight as a fantasy book reviewer?! This is like finding out a teacher I know is secretly Batman. Totally awesome. Never took any of your classes, as I was a history major, but now I wish I did.

    If you are interested in a great fantasy series, check out the Lyonesse trilogy by Jack Vance. Fantasy doesn’t really get much better in my humble opinion.

  2. You found out my secret identity!

  3. The exchange above is hilarious, and I loved Lyonesse.

  4. Me, too, as everyone knows. I assume this student of Ruth’s is also a fan of Gene Wolfe’s books (based on his/her name) which I also loved. Good taste!

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