I feel like I’ve just run a marathon.
I didn’t quite know what to expect when I picked this up. I’d read the synopsis on Goodreads and thought that the premise looked pretty good. So I happened to walk by it in the library last weekend and thought “Awesome!”
I was excited, to say the least.
I’m a huge fan of dystopian novels and the idea behind Article 5 was no exception: a heavily militarized America after a war and the now strict rules dictating the lives of citizens. The country is essentially governed by the church and the military, who rule by forcing citizens to follow a new set of religiously based laws known as the Moral Statutes. After the main character’s mother failed to follow Article 5, having a child out of wedlock, she is arrested and her daughter is sent on a journey towards freedom.
The unfortunate thing about this whole situation though is that with this novel, your mileage may vary.
Now, this book starts off rather strong, giving a rather quick intro to the world and this society, showing off the strength of the main character and her determination to find her mother and discover some sort of freedom in this world. I was enthralled by her love for her mother, the only family she has, and the lengths she’s willing to go in order to save her.
There were characters introduced with great promise and who had awesome chemistry with Ember. Rosa, my favorite by far, is a smart-talking Hispanic girl with the courage to defend herself in a misogynistic dystopian America. And Ms. Brock, a scary-as-hell headmistress who knows how to get her word across. These were great additions to an already promising story, so I was psyched to have found this book.
And then I hit page 98, where everything fell apart.
It’s such a shame, too. The author had built this brutal world filled with believably ruthless people, driven by desire and desperation, even sorrow. And it all crumbled not even one-third into the story. This is where it got kind of painful to continue.
It all started right after the main character finally met up with her love interest and AAAAAAAAAAGH the chemistry was terrible! Right off the bat Ember lost all of her gusto and ambition. She was transformed from this strong female character into a dumbass in distress. Absolutely intolerable as a person, let alone as a protagonist, I almost shut the book. But I pressed on, hoping to find the girl that had graced the story at the very beginning of the whole thing.
But what contributed to this downfall of the story? How did it get so bad so quickly? The biggest chunk of the book was riddled with so many problems in plot:
- The most selfish protagonist I have read about since Bella Swan. Her love comes back to rescue her and she bitches at him the entire time for not being “the same Chase” she left behind. Even though he is clearly suffering from PTSD she refuses to give the guy a break! She even runs away from his twice and almost gets both their asses killed. Another thing some reviewers have complained about his how she yells at Chase and chastises him for almost killing people who were essentially going to rape her. Completely ungrateful for any intentions he has about protecting her.
- Chase was in love with her – why? I mean, I can see how he felt about her when life was “normal”, but this whole journey was just unbelievable. His patience was simply unreal. Though, yes, we can argue that he was doing this very much so out of his guilty conscience for the death of Embers mom.
- I really wanted to love this romance, but Ember was so awful that when they did get some intimacy going between them, I just found myself squirming in my seat, slightly disgusted. I couldn’t’ even enjoy the romance in a “romantically driven” book!
- The fact that Ember didn’t realize her mother was dead got kind of old after a while. And by hat I mean that she commented on hoping to find her unscathed so many times that by the time she does find out what really happened, you feel annoyed at her rather than sympathetic for her loss.
…to the overall writing:
- There were a few inconsistencies with certain elements of the story. Sometimes I would read something and instantly feel confused, like the author had stuck something in there, forgetting to introduce the concept or even mention when a certain event had happened. As if half of some stories are just missing from the book. At one point Ember mentions that a character’s arm shifted in his cast – what? He had a cast now? Also on page 171 Ember mentions that girls born out of wedlock have to wear scarlet 5’s on their shirts – but why mention something like this so far into the story? This is a point brought up I guess to show some kinds of reference to The Scarlet Letter, but it’s effect is totally lost at this point.
- Ember as a character fails at thoughtful introspection. Until she realizes just how awful she was at the end of the story, she essentially pats herself on the back throughout the whole ordeal, thinking “I have great intuition about people!” and other things that make her so resourceful. Except not. Not even likable. I guess Simmons was trying to make Ember sound smart, but she just couldn’t. It just wasn’t possible at this point, and throwing in random big words didn’t help either. She doesn’t deserve to use words like “loquacious” or “fleetingly”. It just out of place and forcefully “poetic” for such a simple-minded girl.
- The wording was awkward. So awkward. There were quotes I just didn’t quite understand, and while I figured that the author was trying to go for that artistic dystopian style, this book fell far from the mark. I often felt like some sentences didn’t even make sense. And even when they did, it just served to make the protagonist sound like a whining child. Just a select few:
- As if submerged in a pool of ice water, my fingers finally thawed enough to pull down my shirt (141).
- People change? Not good enough. Obviously he was different, but that didn’t explain why he’d arrested us or set us free, it just made me want to kick him again (143).
- This is what my life has come to, I thought, watching him. Taking clues from some a guy who is clearly waiting for some kind of sign from the universe (218 -After he saved her stupid self COUNTLESS TIMES. Unbelievable.).
- His eyes burned with the anger I knew he only reached through fear. How did I know that about him? I though fleetingly. How could I read that, when I hardly knew what I was feeling? (293)
- I was the one who held things together, not the person who stirred up trouble (239). – Read the first three chapters and you’ll just facepalm at this.
- I could go on and on with so many more, but I won’t. And if you’re thinking that these are quotes that just don’t make sense out of context, I promise that reading them in the story won’t make them any better.
…to things that just bugged me as a reader:
- Chase should have had the POV in this story, not Ember. His story would have been so much more interesting to hear! How exactly did he get to where he was? Why did he love Ember so much? What was it like to live with all of the guilt form his training? Though now that I think of this, this story would have been better told from ANY other character’s perspective.
- Why did Simmons drop Rosa? There was no reason to drop Rosa. She was actually a likeable character in this story, and she essentially got lobotomized and left for dead in the reformatory.
- The romance is not developed in the slightest. One moment Chase and Ember are having their little drama and the next they’re making out, then the next they’re angry, then the next everything’s forgiven, and then something else utterly frustrating happens. And to make matters worse, what development we do get comes from page long flashbacks that have nothing to do with the story. I ended up skipping a few, just annoyed. It’s such an unrewarding system.
The ending was promising however. And I mean, I almost forgave the book for its shortcomings at the end, in which Ember hatches an admittedly smart plan in some sort of escape mission, showing her bravery and FINALLY some development as a character. I was impressed, and yet confused by the comeback.
Overall, this book had me shaking my head for its majority. It was so hard to sit through this thing, but I wanted to be able to say that I stuck it out. It was an interesting journey, but that hardly makes up for the shortcomings of the novel as a whole. As great as the first 90 pages and the last 10% of the book were, they can’t possibly cover for such an awful middle section. Because that’s all I remember. Upset and anger at Ember and annoying sympathy for Chase, who was essentially sacrificing himself for someone that readers were ultimately unable to connect to. This is a sad case of a book with an awesome premise and –eh- somewhat terrible delivery.
The author does have her good points, and when she shines she really shines. The action scenes were amazing, well-written, and pulse-pounding. The tension and atmosphere are spot on in some parts and very vividly presented. The supporting characters overall added to the atmosphere of this brutal world, pulling in the audience for more of what was to come. Unfortunately, when she falls short, she plummets. The writing did not come off nearly as poetic as I’m guessing she wanted it to, and the book, as well as Ember, come off as being way less deep than they think they are. Want some good prose? Read Ally Condie’s Matched.
If I were to rate this book, I’d have to give it a 2 out of 5. It has its good points, but they don’t even come close to making up for the absolutely insufferable parts of this journey. Not worth buying, somewhat worth a library loan. And it’s certainly not worth reading the other books in the series. Oh, didn’t I mention?
It’s a trilogy.