I cannot begin to tell you how dismayed I am to be giving a book by Scott Sigler just two stars. I can honestly say I don’t think I have ever given one of his books less than four stars. For me, Scott Sigler is an auto-buy, auto-read author. If he puts it into print, I will read it. And every single time, I have loved it. Until this time. When I first heard this book was being published I was a little surprised. Young Adult is not really the Sigler wheelhouse. Dick jokes and very colorful language is part of the writing style, none of which can be in a young adult book. But he’s an extraordinary writer so I didn’t worry about it too much. Surprised but not worried. In hindsight, I should have been worried.
Now, in order for me to be intellectually honest, I also have to mildly rebuke the author a little. On the podcast for Alive, and apparently on the book (at least the advance copies), he felt it necessary to add a little notation that said if you’re going to review this book, please don’t post spoilers and ruin it for other people. This shocked me. My jaw literally dropped. Scott Sigler has never been someone that didn’t understand the reader/author line and always been very respectful of any and all feedback. But this was not okay. Once that book is out into the world, you no longer control it as an author and you certainly don’t control the way it is read or reviewed. If someone doesn’t wish to be spoiled, they should probably not read reviews. Or look for ones that specifically state no spoilers. Let’s not repeat this pattern Scott Sigler, it’s not a good look.
Alright, all that finished. Consider yourself warned, there be spoilers ahead.
Let’s talk about the redeeming qualities about this book first, that’s the shorter of my two lists. The premise of this book is very good, it’s intriguing and mysterious and horrifying at time. It was executed badly but the premise was great.
Em was a character with a lot of potential. A scared little girl who is thrust into a position of authority when she doesn’t know anything more about the situation than anyone else. Where Em fell short was that she ended up being largely boring. Most of her verbal dialogue and inner dialogue alike are “I’m the leader, I think that person wants to challenge me to be leader but I’M THE LEADER!!” Seriously, she repeats this so many times I was praying someone would actually challenge her leadership so she could stop stressing about it.
All of the other characters really don’t matter. Bello is very important to Em for some reason that I never figured out, she didn’t do anything except sit around, look pretty and be boring. O’Malley has some potential to be interesting because I got the sense that he is a secret trouble maker, he always seems like he’s supportive of Em but I think he’s undermining her behind her back. Bishop is scary and violent but, oh, those dreamy eyes and muscles of his. We hear a lot about liquid eyes and taunt muscles and flat stomachs too. Which brings me to my biggest problem with this book:
These kids are supposed to be 12 year olds stuck in adult bodies. Why are they all so sexually interested? Kids at 12 have crushes based on who looked at them across the playground, not because they are enthralled with their muscles and boobs. 12 year olds haven’t figured out what boobs are yet. So on one hand you have prepubescent kids acting like 16-17 year old kids, but then also calling these mysterious people who locked them away “grown ups”. I am pretty certain that most kids stop referring to adults as grown ups much earlier than 12 years old. It was very strange.
The kids, Em in particular, at times struck me as both a much younger and much older child and it did not make sense. She also seemed very disingenuous as a female character, often times she read like a boy. This could be explained by something I heard the author say in his podcast when he was asked how difficult it was to narrate a 12 year old girl. (Note: while in quotations, this is not a direct quote, but it’s close), “It really wasn’t that hard because the world of Alive is post-gender, post-race, post-everything except the caste system that they don’t even understand yet.”
This leads me to a question, if your world is post-gender, why differentiate between girls and boys at all? Presumably the “grown ups” that are cultivating their bodies for their own use don’t need to breed because they can live for millennia, so…why was this important anyway? And why exactly is everyone so obsessed with how attractive the opposite gender is, if it is really irrelevant? It was the strangest remark I’ve ever heard, I listened twice just to be sure I heard it correctly. And I am not sure what this caste system is because we were too busy obsessing over leadership and muscles to explore it at all.
While we’re on the subject of gender in characters, what the fuck was with dressing 12 year olds in too-small, too-tight, busting-at-the-seams Catholic schoolkids outfits? And everyone was so completely hot? Are we really sexualizing 12 year old children? I found that to be one of the more disturbing aspects of the whole book. My brain just kept screaming “Stop it! These are children! Literally prepubescent children!”
I will walk away from that for awhile and move on to tropes. This book has all of them. Smoldering eyes, liquid eyes, scintillating muscles, flat firm stomachs, boobs popping out of shirts, wistful glances across fields of flowers. There was so much purple prose I was inspired to quote from Willy Wonka. Sigler, you’re turning violet Sigler!
Lastly, the plot. It was boring. 70% of the book was walking, arguing about leadership, gazing longingly at each other, and occasionally doing something they think is a bad idea (I shouldn’t look in that room, oh I did anyway, OMG that’s awful I shouldn’t have looked!) Then when we finally started getting answers I was presented with Brewer the Cheshire Cat who I thought was supposed to be the bad guy, but apparently isn’t. But if he is a good guy, then why the hell was he talking in so many circles. I also lost my mind when Brewer gave them a lecture about “why tell you when I can show you, that’s so much better”….and then proceed to TELL them for about 6 pages everything that was going on. That was followed with 10 more pages of the actual bad guy, Matilda, once again telling them everything they need to know about what’s going on. I thought showing was better? I could almost hear the author over my shoulder whispering in my ear, “Are you so super surprised? You never saw it coming did you?” Honestly, no I didn’t see it coming but it also wasn’t that great either. My final feelings once I turned the last page were a big, whomp whomp.
Unfortunately, this trilogy will tie directly into the larger Siglerverse very heavily, I can see that, so I have to read the next two. I really don’t want to, but I will. Maybe it gets better, if not, I’ll let you know.