REVIEW: The Test

There are very few companies that I have complete and utter faith in, but one of the companies lucky enough to have my trust is Tor Books. The novellas this publisher puts out are always so original, so out there, and so entirely amazing. I’ve honestly yet to read one that I haven’t liked.

Wanting something quick to read this week, I picked up my copy of The Test by Sylvain Neuvel. It is an understatement to say I was not prepared for it. The novella tackles a citizenship test in the not-so-distant future of England. Idir is the one taking the test on behalf of his whole family, saving his wife and his children the pressures of it, and keeping their chances high (only one in three people actually pass this test). But Idir may have signing on for more than he expected when the test goes from questions about football to a choice of life and death.

Not only is this novella very timely given the world’s political climate being more and more radicalized in terms of xenophobic propaganda and hate breeding propaganda, but it is so wild of a ride, it puts you right there in the room with Idir as he is forced to choose who lives and who dies. Reading it gave me the same emotional confusion as the film adaptation of the Stanford Prison Experiment did. It is raw and intense, pulling biases and aggressions towards anyone who is “other” to society that one might not even think of right away. It’s more than a story about racism and the way it unfolds so quickly makes for some serious edge-of-your-seat reading.

This is my first time reading Sylvain Neuvel’s work and damn do I look forward to reading more of his work. As uncomfortable as I felt at times while whipping through this novella, it was so strong and powerful that I hope to hear more of Neuvel’s voice in his other works.

REVIEW: Wonderblood

I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review


Wonderblood is a unique novel of three interwoven narratives, full of magic, mystery, and violence. Written in gorgeous prose, Julia Whicker’s debut novel is winding and strange and wonderful. Note that this book does contain some triggering content around a character who is a minor, including sexual assault, gaslighting, physical abuse, and Stockholm syndrome.

The Story

Hundreds of years in the future, America has become overrun by a Mad Cow-like disease called Bent Head, pushing society back into living conditions similar to the Dark Ages of Medieval times. The story follows a girl held captive by her abusive brother in his carnival only to then be held captive by a man claiming to be the True King, the current king’s astronomer, and a Hierophant struggling with his faith.

I found this story fascinating as, according to this world, a dystopia has once again lead to an archaic form of patriarchy. One would think that “the future” is always spaceships and technology, even if it is a little dated, but in this world, all knowledge of science has been long forgotten and even practicing medicine is outlawed and considered heretical. Even the magic of the world is complex and Whicker does a brilliant job of winding coincidence with the examples of magic, making to so it’s hard to tell if magic really does exist within this world of if it’s all merely happenstance.

 

The Characters

The characters of this story are hard to get into since this is a narrative entirely driven by character motivation. I don’t want to give spoilers, so instead I’ll give a sum-up.

If I’m being honest, I didn’t like any of the characters in this story, but all for incredibly different reasons. Some of the characters are not meant to be liked – such as Orchid, an angry woman who wants to be queen and who reminds me very much of Cersei Lannister – but I also had a hard time feeling sorry for the characters who were meant to be liked because they did very little to escape their predicaments.

Now, even though I didn’t like the characters, that wasn’t enough to make me stop reading and please don’t let this discourage you from picking up this book, because – believe me – it’s worth reading.

 

The Issues [ spoilers / trigger warning ]

 

Now, my issues with this book are minimal, but I do hope that Whicker writes a sequel to fix these problems. The only big issue that comes to mind is the open ending and the loose ends. Will we learn the girl’s name? What will happen to her and Orchid? Will Tygo learn that he has a little sister? Will David figure out that he should be in Kansas and not Cape Canaveral? So many questions come up at the end of this book that I am honestly praying that there is more coming.

Next up, let’s get into the triggers. This book contains implied incestual sexual assault, attempted sexual assault, gaslighting, physical abuse (branding), and Stockholm syndrome all to the same 15-year-old character.

It is heavily implied that the girl’s brother has been raping her since she joined his carnival and then her husband turns around and attempts to rape her as well. Not only that, but she has been branded twice – once by both men – in a claiming ritual of sorts. She is heavily gaslighted by David and often verbally abused by his first wife, Orchid. Despite all of this, she is convinced that David loves her and through this grows to love him back.

What bothers me more than anything about all of this, is that is all happens to the girl. The 15-year-old girl. Of course it doesn’t happen all at once and the majority of these moments are quick to skim through, but the context of it all made me uncomfortable.

Conclusion ★★★★

This novel has it’s problems, but if anyone reading this review has knowledge of Game of Thrones, it’s nothing people haven’t seen/read before (although that doesn’t make it okay). Having read this book right after going to see the film Annihilation (based on the Area X series by Jeff VanderMeer), it was just what I was looking for. It kept me incredibly entertained and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a sequel to this one. This isn’t a book for everyone, but if you’re looking for something weird and unique, I recommend this book wholeheartedly. Julia Whicker is definitely an author I will be keeping my eye on.


34964829

Author: Julia Whicker
Published:  April 3, 2018
Pages: 304
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
ISBN: 9781250066060

Synopsis: A mad cow-like disease called “Bent Head” has killed off millions. Those who remain worship the ruins of NASA’s space shuttles, and Cape Canaveral is their Mecca. Medicine and science have been rejected in favor of magic, prophecy, and blood sacrifice.

When traveling marauders led by the bloodthirsty Mr. Capulatio invade her camp, a young girl named Aurora is taken captive as his bride and forced to join his band on their journey to Cape Canaveral. As war nears, she must decide if she is willing to become her captor’s queen. But then other queens emerge, some grotesque and others aggrieved, and not all are pleased with the girl’s ascent. Politics and survival are at the centre of this ravishing novel.