Thursday, August 23, 2012

Review - The Sundered by Ruthanne Reid

Short review: The world is covered with water that is deadly to humans, but not to humanity's enslaved helpers the Sundered. But the Sundered are dying out. Harry wants to find the Hope of Humanity and change the world.

In a drowned world we
Depend on dwindling Sundered
The Hope will save us

Disclosure: I received this book as a Review Copy. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.

Full review: Sometimes I wonder why I bother to wade through self-published and micro and vanity press published books. So many times when reading indie books you find yourself slogging through stilted prose riddled with awful grammar and spelling describing a meandering plot populated by wooden characters. Then I read a book like The Sundered and remember why. because every now and then you find a book that is really good that you would have missed if you didn't dip into the indie waters from time to time. And The Sundered, a strange dystopian tale of science fiction, intrigue, and destiny, is a book that should not be missed.

The world is in trouble. The blue waters have turned to black. The oceans have risen and swallowed most of the land, leaving nothing but islands and scattered "tufts" sticking up from the murky depths. To make matters worse, the dark water is inimical to humans, swallowing them up and drowning them should they fall into its grasp. Not only is the water deadly to humans, food won't grow and people seem to have forgotten how to do almost anything. Fortunately, humanity is assisted by the bizarre slave-race called the "Sundered", subjugated by mental control, and who can produce food, goods, collect drinkable water, and generally do everything necessary to keep humans alive. oddly, the Sundered appeared at the same time the world was transformed into its present state, although no one seems to know where they came from.

With all the problems humanity has living on the ruined planet, Harry has still more. Harry knows that the Sundered that humanity depends upon for survival are slowly dying out. Despite efforts to figure out why the Sundered's numbers are dwindling, and despite efforts to try to figure out how to breed more, the foundation upon which human existence depends is eroding. Harry also carries the burden of searching for the mythic "Hope of Humanity", an unknown cure-all that will supposedly save the world in some unknown way. The trouble is, Harry doesn't know where the Hope is, and no one else does either. Harry has to rely upon incomplete maps handed down to him from his father and engage in the tedious process of elimination to find the Hope by visiting and mapping the blank regions. Further, Harry has only undertaken this task unwillingly, out of a sense of familial obligation, and doesn't feel up to the task of leadership.

Harry's dismal existence is made more complicated when he stumbles across and takes control of a "first tier" Sundered, the rarest and most powerful kind. First tier Sundered are so rare that they aren't even part of a nursery rhyme used to teach children the attributes of the various "tiers" of Sundered. A "first tier" Sundered is exceptionally powerful, and commensurately valuable, but is also incredibly dangerous and difficult to control. And Aakesh is unlike anything that Harry or any of the other Travelers who make up his crew have ever seen.To make matters worse, he stumbles across a plot by one of the many islands cities dotting the world to seize control of all the others by means of a new weapon, and, it turns out, they are after the Hope because they think it can be used as an even more powerful weapon.

Reid tells her story from a tight first person perspective, focusing in on Harry, which allows her to keep the reader guessing through the entire book. The reader only knows what Harry knows, and because it becomes clear that many things Harry has believed to be true about the world he lives in are actually false, one begins to question everything. Because we see the world filtered through Harry's eyes, when he is confused, we can feel the confusion. When he struggles to understand what he has learned, we struggle along with him. Limiting our window on the world to Harry's viewpoint lets the world feel real while also making it feel claustrophobic and confining. By choosing this style of storytelling and sticking with it, although it means that some threads are left unresolved, Reid is able to tell a mystery and keep it mysterious until the very end.

This is not to say that the book is without flaws. At times, the language of the book slips into a little too much informality even for a book told from the first person - a character should not say "umm, no" as part of their internal monologue. There are only three fully developed characters in the book: Harry, Aakesh, and Harry's former teacher and surrogate father Parnum, but in the end the book only really needs three characters to tell its story. When all is said and done, these concerns are minor, and only slightly detract from an otherwise excellent book.

Set in an alien landscape, with a story that reminded me somewhat of what the world might have been like if the dark water had won in Pirates of Dark Water, Reid has crafted an engrossing story that will draw the reader in step by step along Harry's journey. And even when Harry thinks he knows where he is going, he doesn't understand why, or what he will find there. The answers to these mysteries confront Harry and the reader with the question of just what they might be willing to sacrifice to save humanity or even if humanity is worth saving at all. And having set up the question, Reid pulls no punches and offers no easy solution for the protagonist to take, and once the ultimate decision is made, she shows the full and terrible consequences of the chosen path. In the final summation, The Sundered is an unsettling novel, but it is unsettling in the best way possible.

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  1. Great review! But I think there are as many good indie books as there are good traditionally published books. However, I think bad indie books are worse than the bad traditionally published books.

  2. Thanks so much for this review! :D

  3. @Beth: I'd say that there are a handful of good ones, a fair portion of mediocre ones, and a disproportionate number of bad to really awful ones. And the really awful ones are really awful.

    The thing is, the mediocre ones usually have at least flashes of goodness, such that I usually suspect that with a good editor and a rewrite or two they could have been good books. The trouble with indie publishing is that there doesn't seem to be that voice telling authors "not yet, this still needs more work" before the book goes to print.

  4. @Ruthanne Reid: Your book deserved a good review.