Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Culling by Steven dos Santos

Lucian Sparks lives in a world ruled by the Establishment, a cruel, dictatorial government.  Wanting to protect his four-year-old brother Cole, Lucian seeks out his childhood friend Cassius, who is now in a position of power, for help.  But when Cassius thinks Lucian has chosen rebel Digory Tycho over him, he punishes Lucian by making both Digory and Lucian recruits, who are forced to compete against each other in a series of task.  If a recruit fails, he is punished by choosing an incentive - a loved one - to be killed.  For Lucian, it would be Cole.

It's The Hunger Games!  Now with more flesh eating!  Seriously, this didn't even try to pretend it wasn't completely ripping off The Hunger Games.  Person only trying to protect a much younger sibling?  Check. Person not interested in joining the rebellion, only trying to keep said younger sibling safe?  Check.  Young people forced to compete in Gladiator-type games at the hands of cruel dystopian government?  Check.  Young people forced to form alliances to survive, only to have to break those alliances and kill each other in order to protect their loved ones?  Check.

So yeah, it was The Hunger Games, only this time with a male protagonist and a male-male romance.  I did like that aspect of it, that falling in love with another man is not strange in this world.  It was completely accepted as the norm.  The Culling was also more graphically violent.  I know, I know, The Hunger Games are all about kids killing kids, but honestly, the first two books are not especially graphically violent.  The third one much more so.  This was like the third one.

No, it wasn't completely the same.  In The Culling, the reason for the competition is not punishment for rebellion.  It is to find people to become part of the elite military.  There are a series of task the recruits must complete.  Each competitor has two incentives.  If they come in last in a task, they must choose one of their incentives to be killed, in really, really nasty ways.  Beheading, eaten alive by ROUS (rodents of unusual size), stung to death by bees, etc., etc.  Once both a recruits incentives are dead, they are eliminated and sent to a work camp.

There were a lot of loose ends the confused me.  The recruits get sent out to find out what happened to some other soldiers that disappeared, and almost get eaten by...something.  The Fleshers.  Don't know what they are.  They kind of seemed like Reavers, but I don't actually have any idea.  Also, the lost five recruits that were supposedly living out there in piles of bodies?  What?  They've been out there for ten years?  How is that possible?  I don't understand.  I don't understand at all.  And it was one chapter and then we go back to the competition and it's never mentioned again.  It didn't even reappear at the end to entice me into reading the next book where All Will Be Explained.  It just dropped and it seemed totally random.  Why was it there at all?

The Establishment is all crazy and cruel and doesn't seem to be trying very hard to hide it.  So why did lovely, beautiful, damaged Cypress get to die with her children by painless poisonous gas?  All the other incentives and those that went against the Establishment die in horrible, painful way.  You now expect me to believe that they'll let someone who didn't follow the rules die quietly from gas that makes you nod off to sleep?  That was weird.  So there were some inconsistencies in a world that wasn't very clear to begin with.

Digory, the love interest of Lucian's, is handsome and strong and loyal and selfless and ultimately sacrifices himself to save both Lucian and Cole.  I don't believe for a minute he actually died.  I'm sure he'll show up again.  Digory is essentially perfect, and therefore not very interesting as a character.  He's a foil to Cassius, whose love is cruel.

The world Lucian lives in is not very clear.  We know it was once New York, but we don't know how it got the way it is or where the Establishment came from or how long things have been like they are.  We don't know what's happening in other places in the former United States.  We don't even know a whole lot about the Establishment and how it functions. Maybe that's coming in later books.  I would have liked so more foundation right away.

If you have kids who are missing The Hunger Games, they'll probably be happy to give this a read (if they're still into dystopian societies and haven't moved on to the next thing yet).  Nothing groundbreaking or special certainly.

The Culling comes out March 8, 2013.

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