The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson.

13453104289 pages

Published March 1st 2013 by Arthur A. Levine

Palmares Trés, Brazil. 400 years after the end of the world. Technology has advanced a lot and people can live for up to two hundred and fifty years. Palmares Trés doesn’t get into the whole tech thing quite as much as other cities – in the future Tokyo, the people there actually download themselves into code and live in the cloud. There is debate over whether the Brazilian city should allow more tech/body modifications/etc or not. They are very passionate about art, in all it’s forms.

Palmares Trés is run by women. They have a Queen who rules the city with just the help of the ‘Aunties’ (leaders) for most of the time, but every five years the city elects a Summer King. At the end of his very short term, he is sacrificed. In his last moments, it is his job is to elect a new Queen (or reinstate the current one). The kings die so that their choice of the new Queen can be irrevocable, unassailable, and unprejudiced. After all, there’s no time for corruption when your throat is being cut. 

June is a young artist. She has just been chosen as a finalist for the Queen’s Award – a prestigious award that can change your whole life if you win. The current Queen was a winner herself, back in the day.

Enki has just been elected as Summer King. He too is an artist. Together, he and June work on anonymous and amazing art projects around the city.

Gil is June’s best friend. He is a beautiful dancer. Enki has just picked him as his most public consort.

But things are changing in the city of Palmares Trés. And Enki and June are at the centre of it all.

The Summer Prince was definitely different than I expected. The description made it sound like a love story, and though there is love here, there’s no way I would call it a romance, or even romantic. It’s more about the city, I think – it’s outdated customs and the way it needs to change or adapt. I wouldn’t say that I particularly connected with any of the characters.

I did like it, I think. My feelings are a bit complicated, actually.

It’s separated into the four seasons. There aren’t any chapters, which makes it harder to read, I find. It’s just that I like to stop a reading session at a new chapter. There are plenty of page breaks, so that’s something. Also, it was a bit slow to get into, but at about the hundred page mark, it started to click for me.

I’m not sure that I would really call this a young adult novel, either. There were some pretty mature themes, and even the writing itself was harder to read than your usual young adult pickings.

The most complicated thing of all, I found, was the way that sexuality had been redefined. There are no straight/gay/bi people – same gender couples are just as ordinary as mixed gender couples. Everyone just gets with everyone, and that’s the norm. I had to essentially reset my brain to try and get around that concept. Sex didn’t seem to be mean much, though. At one point, June says that she and Gil took care of their ‘virginity problem’ years ago, like it’s nothing.

I can’t even really pin down a proper genre. I guess, sci-fi? It’s a tricky one, is The Summer Prince.

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The Hit by Melvin Burgess.

Image301 pages

Published April 4th by Chicken House Books

The premise is this: there’s a new drug out. Death. You take it and live for one amazing week – then you die. Forever.

The book opens with Adam and his girlfriend Lizzie attending a concert. Singer Jimmy Earle is rumoured to have taken the drug, and this is the gig where he will die if the rumours are true. After an amazing show, Jimmy keels over, dead. The crowd is shocked and a little wary. When an announcement is made that Jimmy isn’t dead, and an obvious look-alike is sent out on stage, everyone goes crazy. Thousands of fans take to the streets – rioting and looting and vandalising. Up until this point, the setting of The Hit could be now, here (although I can’t imagine many people actually taking Death in our world). But it soon becomes apparent that this is either the future or some alternate timeline. There is a clear division of the classes – rich and poor – and the government sucks, basically. Also, there are Zealots – ‘a half madcap protest group, half armed rebels’ – hardcore protesters who stir up trouble and fight for the people. Members of the group often act as suicide bombers or set themselves on fire and jump off buildings just because they can.

Adam is poor. Lizzie is rich. He lives with his parents and quiet, hardworking brother, Jess. His future is panned out for him: he will work to support his family. There is another option: impregnate Lizzie and use her as his ticket out. Adam tells himself that he will never do it.

Certain events lead Adam down an ugly path. He chooses to take Death. So begins his last remaining week: a time to run through his bucket list, do stuff he’s always wanted to do and hopefully end his life feeling fulfilled or whatever. Unfortunately, things take a dark turn. The Zealots have led the people to the edge, and it’s all about to go down.

The Hit is quite a heavy read. I struggled with the idea that a drug that gave you the ultimate week long high and then killed you would ever become popular. But I guess the world is supposed to be a horrible, extremist place in the book. So I understand why, but I still don’t really believe it – if you know what I mean.

I’ve never read any of Melvin Burgess’ other books, but this doesn’t exactly inspire me to read any more, either. I wouldn’t say I disliked it, but nor did I love it. If you like gritty young adult books, then maybe try this. If not, give it a miss.

Blackout by Mira Grant.

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Book three in the Newsflesh trilogy

Paperback, 659 pages

Published May 22nd, 2012 by Orbit

IBSN: 9780316081078

(contains spoilers for Feed and Deadline)

Georgia and Shaun Mason seem to attract trouble. They have uncovered layers of a conspiracy that runs deep within the United States government and that seems to get deeper and muckier all the time. They have survived countless zombie attacks as well as betrayals from people they thought they could trust. Georgia was killed and secretly cloned, Shaun went a little crazy, members of their news team became chow for the living dead. A lot of excrement has hit that twirly thing in the ceiling since they took on the Ryman campaign job back in Feed. But now it’s time for the real truth to get out, no matter how bad the outcome may be . . .

Told from two perspectives, Blackout follows both Georgia – held captive in the facility where she awoke after being cloned – and Shaun – leading his team around the country on a rescue mission.

I dare say that Blackout has the least zombie action out of the three books. It focuses more on the conspiracy/uncovering the truth side of things. There is, however, still plenty of tough guy talk where zombies are involved. I have a prime example for you:

I adjusted my position, calling over my shoulder, “A little speed in the carpool lane would be appreciated, guys. We’ve got incoming, and I didn’t bring enough limbs to share with everybody.”

This series is absolutely splattered with macho comments, and I love it. It’s probably my favourite thing about it.

As an ending to the Newsflesh trilogy, I think this does okay at properly finishing everything. Feed is definitely my favourite of the three because it seemed the most complete. You could have pretty much left it as a stand alone novel, whereas Deadline and Blackout need each other.

One thing I do wonder about is how the Masons enemies always manage to start these zombie breakouts so quickly – and maybe this was explained somewhere and I’ve forgotten – because it seems mighty convenient (a little too convenient). Maybe they use their little needles of virus? Ring the dinner bell? Walk the zombies over on leashes? I just don’t know.

Overall, Blackout was a good read and a fine finish to this technological zombie political thriller series. Mira Grant came up with lots of great ideas (plenty of ‘ah!’ moments) and seemed well versed in all the science stuff.

Feed by Mira Grant.

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Paperback, 599 pages

Published May 1st, 2010 by Orbit

IBSN: 0316081051

It’s 2014 and someone has found a cure for cancer. Someone else has discovered a cure for the common cold. Great news, right? Let’s all get cured! Unfortunately, when these two experimental viruses meet each other, they create a single air born germ that reanimates dead people. So now we have zombies everywhere. Millions of people die, but thanks to the vital information gained from classic zombie flicks, mankind continues on – with the zombies for company.

Fast forward a couple of decades and the internet is the boss of media – it’s a bit hard to send paper boys out to the deliver the news when there are zombies roaming the streets, after all. The general population stay inside their houses and rely on bloggers for news and entertainment.

Georgia and Shaun Mason are two such bloggers, they seek out news and go into the thick of it to show everyone the way things are. They are also on the verge of a big break – they have been chosen to cover the presidential campaign of senator Peter Ryman.

But something bigger than just the campaign is going on. Conspiracy! Corruption! Zombie attacks! The more truth they uncover, the more dangerous things get for them – hitting the big time comes with a massive price!

I was introduced to this series through a goodreads group last year. Back then I was pedantic about reading every monthly book, so I felt obligated to read this during it’s month. I was reluctant at first (‘it’s so long’, ‘it’s about zombies and I’m housesitting alone and might get scared’, etc), but once I started I found that I couldn’t stop!

Feed is unlike any other zombie novel that I have read. Instead of the post-zombie world breaking off into chaos and secluded communities, technology has advanced. There are some very nifty virus detector thingys that test your blood and let you know the good or bad news with green and red lights. Also, Feed isn’t all about the zombie attacks – it’s a political thriller sci-fi too. In fact, the balance may shift slightly the other way – it’s a political thriller sci fi with zombies. Another difference is that everyone is infected already – the original germ being air born – but the virus doesn’t take over your body until you die. All mammals over forty pounds have the capacity to zombify after death.

We get a really good look at the blogger situation through the eyes of the main character, Georgia Mason (a ‘newsie’ – your classic journalist), and her adopted brother Shaun (an ‘Irwin’ – he spends a lot of time making videos of himself getting up close and personal with zombies). There is also another type of blogger called a ‘fictional’ – no guesses what their specialty is – their friend Buffy heads up this department.

It’s a long book, but it didn’t feel long as I was reading it. The world building is great – you can tell that Mira Grant has put a lot of thought into the little things. For example, because of the all-mammals-over-forty-pounds-turning-into-zombies-upon-death thing, hardly anyone keeps horses or big dogs anymore. Also, say you eat beef that isn’t completely cooked – even that could tip the scales of the virus within you and send it live. I really appreciate cool little bits and pieces like this in a story.

Others have said that they found this hard to get into, but personally I disagree. I was very into it right from the beginning. However, I would suggest that the second half is more conventionally exciting than the first half (more action, more answers, etc).

Go on, give Feed a go.