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A series headed downhill?
on July 31, 2010
Welcome back to Perdido Beach, back to the FAYZ. Welcome indeed. Lies has been a long time coming, it truly has.
Michael Grant's latest offering, Lies, mirrors his previous hits, Gone and Hunger, in every way possible. Grant doesn't hold back; from page one the action steams out of the station and the plot unravels in so many twists, turns and flips. No time wasting. Like a Ninja Assassin: get in there, stab-slash-slice, get out. Mission accomplished.
His prose mimics the rapid, staccato bursts of machine guns. When you open Lies, his prose flips out like an impressive cut-throat razor and slices away all distractions that might steal your attention from the book.
The question is: how good an accomplishment is Lies?
If you're a fan of the Gone series, the first thing you'll notice when reading Lies is the absence of some beloved characters. Computer Jack appears only twice. Quinn becomes more irrelevant than he was in Hunger. Lana sits around, getting high on alcohol and smoking cigarettes, all the time. Brianna, the character I love most, contributes zilch to the plot; she's sick the entire book, suffering from the flu, thus bedridden. The only time she does anything is towards the end, when she puts Sam on a skateboard and drags him at top speed from the nuclear plant back to Perdido Beach.
Why are these top characters sidelined? Well, the only reason I supply is: to make room for newer characters.
Problem is the new characters are either bad imitations of the old, popular characters, or they are just not that interesting.
Nerezza channels Diana's manipulative, sultry disposition with little success. Zil, who assumes the mantle of resident villain, as Caine is too busy starving to death, is too weak, too stupid, and too WTF-are-you-kidding-me, that the plausibility of Lies' plot scuttles off a cliff when Zil and his human crew burn down half the town (killing some kids in the process), walk into a hall filled with kids without incurring retribution for starting the fire, and gun down a bunch of kids.
Maybe this is the author's idea of a badass villain, in which case: fail.
Then there're Sanjit, Virtue and the other kids who live on an island within the FAYZ. These guys are late to the party. In the first book they would have made for interesting characters. In Lies, they just get in the way. I'm reading an action scene, the chapter ends, and then I have to read Sanjit and Virtue's boring mission to fly a helicopter. They accomplish this at the end of the book.
Yes, that's right. It takes the entire book for them to fly a helicopter.
Fortunately, Sam, Astrid, Orc, and Howard breathe a much needed life into Lies.
Sam struggles to accept his relegated hero status, labours with the memory of Drake beating the crap out of him, and questions his relationship with Astrid: has she been using him all along just to protect herself and her brother, Little Pete? Does she love him or is she only interested in power and control?
Astrid misplaces that astute perception of hers, the one that earned her the fitting moniker, "Astrid the genius", in her quest to maintain peace, order and unity within the FAYZ.
Orc, though playing a much smaller role like Computer Jack, becomes a more honourable individual. Even Howard shows he's got a streak of humanity in him and that he's not simply a brainless, smart-mouthed bully. He totally pawns Astrid at her own game. Yeah, he is still a creep, but he's a far more interesting creep in this book than in the previous ones.
I have to say though that the character over-inflation problem that plagued Hunger is evident in Lies. In fact, most characters are starting to sound alike that it's hard to distinguish them.
What I don't understand is why the author chooses to give characters staring roles when they add nothing to the plot or the series. There are a bunch of chapters that feature Justin. Yeah, you probably don't remember him. Well, that's because he's very irrelevant. But for some reason we have to read chapters of him getting lost on his way home. That's all. What's the point?
There is a saying that goes: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
I said earlier that Lies mirrors Gone and Hunger in every way possible, but is that necessarily a good thing?
Every series has a plot formula. In Harry Potter, Harry starts off each book at his uncle's house. Weird things happen. Then he goes to Hogwarts. Weird things happen. Everyone blames him. Weird things happen. He, Hermione and Ron solve some weird riddles. They succeed. Hurray! Harry returns home. That's pretty much the Potter formula. The reason it works is (a) there's always something new to discover in Hogwarts; (b) Harry Potter and other characters are very, very well drawn; (c) the plot elements for each book are always fresh, engaging and exciting [book one: philosopher's stone; book two: the basilisk/sword of Gryffindor; book three: Dementors/time-turner; book four: tri-wizard tournament/voldemort himself; etc].
The Gone series has its own formula. Unfortunately, that formula is starting to show its age.
As usual, Caine concocts a half-arsed plan and manipulates a bunch of people. The heroes are too busy squabbling amongst themselves to open their eyes and see what's right in front of them. By the time they realise, oh, crap there's something bad happening, it's too late - Caine has done his damage.
Lies' plot does deliver, but honestly, each book release in the Gone series has shown a progressive decline in plot quality. The new characters - heroes and villains alike - are unable to fill the void left by absentee characters. (Seriously, can someone tell me why Zil is still alive?) The author must know this, which is why he decided to bring back an old character that should have stayed dead. It's like a bad episode of Passions. Said character used to be scary. Now he's a joke.
I know Little Pete is an autistic four-year-old, and I sympathise with him. Actually, I used to. Now, he's just pissing me off. He's responsible for the FAYZ, or at least he's somehow connected, but his unresponsiveness, while realistic, is aggravating, especially since his character is pivotal in the series. It takes forever for him to react to anything, and when he does, I'm thinking: oh, wow. That's it? That's all you're going to do after I've sat here for hours, reading about you whine and play a dead Game Boy?
Overall, Lies is a decent book. Certainly not my best in the series. Here is to hoping things pick up in Plague.