Author: Max Barry
Genre: Fiction | Science Fiction
Synopsis: At an exclusive training school at an undisclosed location outside Washington, D.C., students are taught to control minds, to wield words as weapons. The very best graduate as poets” and enter a nameless organization of unknown purpose. Recruited off the street, whip-smart Emily Ruff quickly learns the one key rule: never allow another person to truly know you. Emily becomes the school’s most talented prodigy, until she makes the catastrophic mistake of falling in love.
Would I recommend? If you’re into fast-paced action. Also, if you like sci-fi and Neil Gaiman. If you want to get into sci-fi, this would be a great place to start.
Final Rating: ★★★★☆
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I’ve had this book on my TBR shelf for a pretty long time. I heard about it from booktubers and book bloggers alike, and everybody just seemed to love it. Even then, it took me forever to pick it up because I’m not into science fiction. I’ve only read two or three adult sci-fi books before this one, and they’ve been pretty much hit-or-miss for me. I’m glad that the TBR Takedown readathon came along. One of the five challenges for the readathon was to read a book out of my comfort zone, so I finally decided to pick this up. I was blown away by how much I liked it because I went into it, ready to point out all the negatives, but I found myself completely lost within the story and the action.
If you’re like me and you’re hesitant about sci-fi, I would suggest you try reading this, because after turning the last page, all I wanted to do was go out and buy another sci-fi novel. If that’s not the mark of a good book, I don’t know what is.
This book definitely had the potential to be a five-star book, but the only reason I didn’t give it five stars is because I think I still needed some time to warm up to it. Other than that, this was a fantastic book. It’s re-readable, it’s fast-paced, it’s fun. It’s clever and imaginative and there are some twists and turns you don’t necessarily see coming.
The book follow two main characters: Wil, who we meet in the very first chapter, is being chased down by sinister men who claim to be protecting him from someone who wants to kill him. Wil has no idea what these men want from him, but he finds himself involved in something way beyond him. The second character is Emily Ruff, a homeless teenage girl, who is sent to an academy. But this is no ordinary school; this is a school that teaches its students the art of persuasion, the art of language. Emily is among the smartest and brightest in the school; she seems to have a natural talent for persuasion. But everything goes downhill when she falls in love with a boy.
One of the things that struck out to me most was how well Max Barry managed the perspectives. He switches the perspectives with every chapter, and every chapter is set in a different time, in a different setting from the previous one, and he leaves the reader to puzzle the picture together. He gives away no time-stamps, no dates, no settings. He starts a chapter, and the reader is left to figure out where he/she is in the first couple of pages. This may sound annoying, but it’s not because it was such an immersive experience. You were completely involved in the story.
Another thing Barry did extremely well was the pacing. Wil’s chapters are action-packed. There are car chases, choppers firing down on Wil’s car, shootouts, accidents, deaths. The chapters revolving around Wil read like a movie because there was just so much going on. On the other hand, Emily’s chapters were sort of the breather in between the faster parts. But even this ‘breather’ was so engrossing, so captivating because most of the world-building happens within Emily’s chapters. Max Barry’s a genius. The pacing was spot-on; perhaps the best pacing I’ve ever read.
The premise was very interesting. The reader is left on his/her toes from the very beginning, and Max Barry doesn’t reveal things too easily. He makes you work for it. I guessed the major plot twist, but only a few pages before it was revealed, and even then, I was left mind-blown. You’re never sure who’s side you’re on, who you’re rooting for because it’s like you’re living it in the moment.
And this book was funny. I found myself chuckling throughout several parts. It does have very crude language, but the language worked in the book’s favor.
This book is definitely more plot-based than it is character-based, but even then, I really enjoyed both of our main characters. Emily Ruff is a lot more developed than Wil is because, like I said, her chapters are slower, so we get to see her interactions, her back-story a lot more. I’m not too sure that Emily is a likable character, but she’s a well-developed one for sure. She’s clever and practical. She may not have the body strength, but her mind is sharper than a longsword and she uses that to her advantage.
I can’t say much about Wil’s character, because for the most part, you don’t know his back-story. The people around him seem to be telling him things about his past that he doesn’t even remember, but despite that, Max Barry gave him a very distinct personality. You could count on Wil to do what you thought he was going to do, because his personality was so consistent throughout.
Max Barry is a genius. I don’t usually say that when I’ve only read one of an author’s books, but I’m saying it now because wow. I didn’t expect to like this book nearly as much as I did, and I think a lot of my love for it stems from Barry’s writing style. He’s so economical with his words. There’s no unnecessary description, and he doesn’t sway from the plot. He manages the time switches and perspectives perfectly. His sentences are brief and to-the-point. And he really makes you think about the world around you, as well as the world you’re reading about- so much so that the lines become blurred between the two. I am definitely going to be picking up more of his books.