Cover Art from Goodreads
Along my reading, I picked up Amy A. Bartol’s Secondborn. Even as someone who thrives on the drama of a YA post apocalypse world, I didn’t expect to like this book. I’d just been burned by the likes of Death Thieves and The Hundredth Queen. All three YA books trying to take advantage of my love of The Hunger Games and all three of books have 4 star reviews in Amazon and Goodreads. When will these writers get that what made Hunger Games amazing wasn’t just the kids fighting in the arena? So, curious despite myself, I picked up Secondborn expecting it to either disappoint or be a guilty pleasure.
Instead Secondborn and it’s sequel Traitor Born were a joy read and touch on larger conversations we need to have in today’s world. Bartol focuses on the heart of what’s great in post apocalypse YA: the transformation of the main character and their perception of the world around them. First, I appreciated Roselle as a savvy character who avoids the “ignorant for the sake of exposition” trope. From the beginning, Roselle shows she is a smart character aware of differing undercurrents even if she’s not sure of how deep those waters flow. Her thoughts and feelings change as she has new experiences and uncovers more schemes in the world around her.
Through Roselle the reader learns to empathize with many perspectives. By the time I finished the second book, Traitor Born, I was no longer sure there was a “good side” or “bad side”. It’s a rare risk for a writer to twist the bad characters into ones we might understand and to muddy the water so we despite the good characters. I read plenty ambiguous characters or where one “side” transforms into not the villain/not the hero, but leaving a reader with no character to trust or side with is bold and exciting. Even as I can’t “support” or “root” for any one outcome, I empathize with them. I want relief for these characters, but it’s not to accomplish their goals.
Amid this shifting terrain, Roselle sinks, struggling with PTSD, and a series of complicated interpersonal relationships. Her flashbacks, the way she falls to pieces in key moments and rises in others, and how she struggles with drugs feels authentic and relevant. I thought I’d decided about who I wanted with Roselle as allies or friends, who Roselle should work with and who she should keep at arm’s length, but Traitorborn makes me question the decisions I made. There’re dangerous edges on everyone and redeeming qualities. I resented my favorite ally from the last book, forgot how evil/distasteful another character was because he has these moments of genuine connection, and I thought someone who was once a snake in the grass might become a true ally.
And I haven’t even gotten to the science fiction. Unlike The Giver or The Hunger Games, that keep technology vague and only available to isolated pockets of society, Secondborn distributes the technology to everyone. The gadgets themselves aren’t innovative, chips in webbing or right hands to track and grant access, hover vehicles and airships, robots who are servants/guards/trackers/medics, and a weapon that seems a cross between a light sabre and a plasma gun. All ideas I’ve seen before right? Bartol re-images these ideas to give a fresh unique society. The world and the devices of it feel lived in and true. Beyond the existing tech, Bartol continues to introduce upgrades and improvements to her tech. It starts in one spot with these flaws and then a patch comes out. The upgrades make her world feel more real and provide new challenges for her characters to overcome.
I’m glad I read the first two books (even if both endings are cliffhangers) and am looking forward to the third installment. If you like a future society where teens and young adults have to fight for their lives, you will enjoy this series. While a simple premise, the layers of nuance make it enjoyable and thought provoking to many age groups.
Take Aways From Bartol’s Success:
1. Don’t be afraid to market an idea another book/work made famous just BRING VALUE, don’t expect other’s success to sell a sub par work
2. Have complicated dynamic characters and don’t limit quantity. Readers can keep up with you as long at each character has a personality-and embrace the baggage being in traumatic situations leaves these characters. Let them have flashbacks, PTSD, aggressive or tearful reactions to simple daily events.
3. Don’t shy away from near future tech in your science fiction. Embrace the evolution of these systems to make them feel real and dynamic within your world.
4. Female leads can be emotional and strong/combat oriented. Roselle is a great balance of action/battle training and intelligent emotional thinking.
5. Have a kick-ass looking personal website. Just look at Bartol’s website, the graphics and layout make me want to read her work more than her covers! She’s inviting her readers’ imagination to tackle fan fiction for her characters, and through their fannish excitement, spread her work to new audiences.
Looking for more to read? Check out the next in this series: T. A. White’s “Dragon Ridden Series”
Wondering why Kindle Unlimited? Here’s 7 reasons I read this way.
Looking for more conversation on reviews? Try “Would you Rather…” or “Does Being Critical in Reviews Hurt me as a Writer?“