Review: The Cityborn by Edward Willett

July 21, 2017 Review 0

Review: The Cityborn by Edward WillettThe Cityborn by Edward Willett
Published by Daw Books on July 4, 2017
Genres: Dystopia, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 352
Source: NetGalley
Sexual Content: N/A
Reviewed by: Rebecca
2 Stars

The metal City towers at the center of the mountain-ringed Heartland, standing astride the deep chasm of the Canyon like a malevolent giant, ruled with an iron fist by the First Officer and his Provosts in the name of the semi-mythical Captain. Within its corroding walls lies a stratified society, where the Officers dwell in luxury on the Twelfth Tier while the poor struggle to survive on the First and Second, and outcasts scrabble and fight for whatever they can find in the Middens, the City's rubbish heap, filling the Canyon beneath its dripping underbelly.

Alania, ward of an Officer, lives on Twelfth. Raised among the privileged class, Alania feels as though she is some sort of pampered prisoner, never permitted to explore the many levels of the City. And certainly not allowed to leave the confines of the City for any reason. She has everything a young woman could want except a loving family and personal freedom.

Danyl, raised by a scavenger, knows no home but the Middens. His day-to-day responsibility is to stay alive. His sole ambition is to escape from this subsistence existence and gain entrance to the City--so near and yet so far out of reach--in hopes of a better life.

Their two very different worlds collide when Alania, fleeing from an unexpected ambush, plunges from the heights of the City down to the Middens, and into Danyl's life.

Almost immediately, both of them find themselves pursued by the First Officer's Provosts, for reasons they cannot fathom--but which they must uncover if they are to survive. The secrets they unlock, as they flee the Canyon and crisscross the Heartland from the City's farmlands to the mountains of the north and back again, will determine not only their fate, but the fate of the City...and everyone who lives there.

THE CITYBORN is fueled by its dystopian society. In a place only known as ‘The City’, there are clear lines between the rich and the poor. There can be so much intrigue to a class-ruled dystopia. It’s always fun learn about how these strange societies are built, and it’s even better to watch them fall. Unfortunately, the City was a cipher for too much of the book. If you want the reader to root for the demolition of society, you need the nitty-gritty details. It took too long to confirm where the City was, how it originated, or why it was there. In the City, the Officers are the ruling class, and have been maintaining power and money for generations. The rest of the population is spread out on lower levels. Some are simply poor, others essentially live in a Mad Max style dump.

Stolen as children, Alania and Danyl have been raised in totally different class spheres. Alania, protected and sheltered, with the upper crust. Danyl, scavenging and fighting, in a garbage level. When they turn 20, everything changes. The relationship between Alania and Danyl was...strange. They snipe, argue, and slowly respect each other. But, even when they learn about their shared personal history, there's a lot of longing looks and awkward feelings that never go away. It was almost like the first draft of the novel had them written as lovers and the subsequent drafts never erased that tension.

THE CITYBORN is oddly weighted to the point where it felt like I was reading two different novels. The first chapters follow the protagonists at different ages, but the time jumps are pure set-up. We explore the protagonist’s surroundings but ignore the more interesting aspects of the society. The plot didn’t start until Danyl and Alania turned 20. Conversely, the last few chapters are completely different. Characters die, plots speed by, settings are replaced over and over. It’s almost impossible to take a breath. But --just when it seems that the book is coming to fruition-- the plot stalls. Needless obstacles are thrown in Danyl and Alania’s escape. It seemed like only purpose for yet another sabotage was to pad out the ending.

THE CITYBORN also suffers from tonal whiplash. Some plot elements are needlessly grim: forced sterilization, infanticide, graphic deaths, hidden cameras. It’s a rebellion, and it should be bloody, but it’s a little much for YA, especially since these issues are never properly investigated. The ending itself also shies away from making hard choices. When monumental, world-changing, information is discovered, it’s shrugged away. Radical changes are made, but the book ends before the City’s population (and the reader) feels the effects. Overall, THE CITYBORN is a frustrating book. Some sections are intriguing and fast-paced, but others are slow and meandering. Danyl and Alania may be the protagonists but they’re also the least interesting characters. The robots, clones, and amazing side-characters easily steal the focus from Alania and Danyl. A dystopian fan with a special love for class-division and clones may forgive THE CITYBORN’s flaws, but I found it hard to focus on the shiny metal buried under the debris.

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For other sci-fi dystopias, check out The Retreat by Kelly St. Clare or Illuminae by Amie Kaufman

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