I tend to prefer my bleak futures in standalone as most of the trilogies lose me at their middles or, sometimes, their beginnings. This particular series kept me intrigued the longest of any I’ve read, but it still lost me in this last book. These landings are just hard to stick, I guess.
In the first book of this series, we saw teenagers literally dying to get into the best (okay, only) college, winning mostly with their intelligence and a little bit with their fists. In the second, we saw them literally fighting again to get into the best classes in said college, and then Charbonneau dropped the higher-ed allegory in favor of a resistance movement story line that was still pretty interesting.
Now the resistance movement story line makes way for the government conspiracy story line, as our hero Cia finds out that the resistance fighters are actually just pawns of the University leaders in some long-con game whose players are not altogether clear. Cia knows she can’t trust one former good guy, but she’s not sure where her other good guys or even bad guys stand, and she can’t ask or everyone will know she knows… whatever it is she actually knows. I don’t have a head for conspiracies, you can tell.
It gets worse, though. There’s a vote coming soon on Testing reform which would get rid of all the unneccessary violence and death and memory-wiping, and when Cia mentions all the conspiracy stuff to her boss, the University president, the president gives Cia the task of eliminating the opposition through, you know, necessary violence and death. Cia is like, no way, well, okay, if that’s the way it’s gotta be, and she recruits her most- and least-trusted fellow students to carry out the minimum amount of murder possible.
And you know me, I am slightly more fascinated by political machinations than the next person, but Charbonneau lost me after the third or seventh or eleventeenth good-guy/bad-guy reversal. And then when she finds herself in a position where she’s (SUPER SPOILER) eliminating the baddest bad guy who turns out to be a good guy who made a deal that requires his death to prove that Cia’s the right kind of leader in the eyes of the actual bad guys so that she can become a leader and then subvert the bad guys as a good guy? I just. Can’t. Even.
We won’t even talk about the farm upstate. Uggghh.
But even though I was alternately baffled by and annoyed with the plot, I still couldn’t put the dang book down even though I was reading it in tiny print in a terrible format on my phone, because Charbonneau can write a page-turner. I also appreciated that, extraneous twist nonsense aside, the book was primarily about how good and bad are nebulous constructs, how the people who are trying to take down an obviously bad system are not therefore obviously good people, and how and end to the fighting isn’t an end to the fight.
It’s not a perfect book, but the series overall is definitely my favorite of the genre and I will be looking out for more books from Charbonneau in the future (I don’t think I’m going to go read her glee club mysteries, though).
Recommendation: Don’t read this particular book unless you’ve read the series, but do read the series if you feel like death and violence accurately encapsulates your own school career.