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Kingsley Paperback – October 2, 2015
"An original and deftly crafted dystopian novel, "Kingsley" showcases author Carolyn O'Neal as a master of the genre. A riveting read from beginning to end." - The Midwest Book Review
"Well-written, well-researched, fast-paced novel" - OnlineBookClub.org
"This debut novel of environmental collapse intertwines apocalyptic fiction with the multigenerational family epic.. . . particularly shines is in the history and relationships between the antagonists," - Kirkus Reviews
From the Author
Have you heard of Colony Collapse Disorder? What if what's happening to the honeybees happened to us?
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The basic premise is that there a disease that causes brain tumors in everything with a Y-chromosome. Meaning every male human and animal on the planet. It starts in a few different mammals, then spreads to humans, sparking worldwide chaos. You know how too many independent books have a great premise but fail to deliver a story that matches? This isn’t one of those books.
Kingsley is a fantastic read packed with great characters and interesting twists. I have just a few minor complaints, and I’ll get them out of the way first.
The biggest was the dialogue. There are spots, especially near the beginning, where I felt like the characters came across just a little bit stiff. Almost like they got to the point too quickly. One early scene in particular involving a divorced couple and the wife’s new fiancee could (should?) have been charged with tension and unspoken hostility. Instead, the characters said exactly what was on their minds. It got the issue out in the open but it felt a little forced and weird. But that was a rare problem and most of the dialogue flows much more smoothly.
The other was the structure. I won’t go into this too much because Josh and I talked about this point a lot in our review on The Wrambling Writers podcast, but I basically would have built the novel a bit differently. There’s nothing wrong or even bad about the way it’s done. There are just some abrupt transitions that I would’ve handled differently myself. You may read it (you should read it!) and not even notice.
Now the good!
The story itself is top notch. Fascinating concept and excellent execution. It’s well paced with enough excitement to keep you going and just enough space to let you catch your breath. The characters are all very well-developed and there is no dead weight at all. Every character you meet feels real. Some of them are likable, some are detestable, some are annoying, some are pitiable. But they’re all real.
The absolute best part is the perspective. I’ve seen so many writers drop the ball on perspective, by head-hopping or some other common mistake, that I get really excited to see one do a decent job in this area. Carolyn did more than decent when it comes to perspective – she nailed it. In fact, Kingsley could easily be a case study on great perspective.
Part of the brilliance is that we’re seeing the end of the world from the perspective of a 14-year old boy. So a lot of the high level details are appropriately left out. You won’t hear anything about governments, local or national, deal with the crisis because Kingsley is only concerned about his headaches, his mother, and his crush, Amanda. The world is falling apart all around him, but you only know that from context clues. It’s not the focus and it makes the collapse seem that much more real and frightening.
The science that underpins the story is also very well research, lending a further tint of realism to the whole thing. I worried early on that we were going to be subject to long lectures on environmental issues but that never happened. Still, the science is there, driving the plot and making the events seem more plausible that you’d like to believe they are.
The ending wasn’t quite perfect, but I still liked it. That coming from someone who’s very picky about endings. I don’t want to give anything away, so that’s all I’ll say about that.
Best of all, the book has a strong environmental message that it communicates without being “preachy.” Whatever your opinion on various “green” initiatives, Kingsley is guaranteed to make you stop and think.
The first part of the novel focuses on Kingsley and Amanda and their efforts to figure out what’s going on. Both of them have crazy insane mothers who are either oblivious or overbearing, and both of them had good relationships with their fathers (although neither father was a match for his wife!). The secondary characters in this novel really are a hoot – they reminded me of the kinds of characters Roald Dahl writes, perverse and over-the-top, but definitely scary. As Kingsley’s headaches intensify and the truth about the state of the world becomes clear, Kingsley and Amanda’s predicament becomes horrifyingly precarious.
But about a third of the way through the novel, things jump 40 years into the future, where the world is an even scarier place. Without males, reproduction is impossible, and most animal and insect life has vanished from the planet; this means the food supply is in dire straits. Women have resorted to cloning to have children, an expensive and intricate process that limits childbirth to the very rich. There are doctors attempting to find a “cure” for the disease that ravaged all male life on earth (called “The Collapse”), and there are doctors attempting to create new, genetically-engineered life forms that are capable of reproducing asexually. There are conflicts over whether or not any effort should be made to bring back male life forms, either through cloning or through genetic engineering – some people long for the good old days when men were rock stars and sports heroes and boyfriends and husbands, but others fear that men were the cause of the planet’s devastation and they resist any effort to resurrect them. In this “brave new world,” Kingsley (no longer a teen) plays a new and fascinating role.
This novel definitely reminds me of other novels, such as P. D. James’s CHILDREN OF MEN (where all of the planet’s women have become infertile) and Margaret Atwood’s ORYX AND CRAKE (where a geneticist attempts to create new genetically-engineered life forms). But both James and Atwood are more openly political (and more graphically violent) than O’Neal, and neither book was written with a teen audience in mind. KINGSLEY feels much more like a YA novel, with Kingsley’s perspective front and center through most of it. There is a political agenda here – selfishness and greed have driven people to destroy the ecosystem, which ultimately leaves humanity (and all life) verging on extinction. It’s a scary premise, and one that seems all too real. But since the perspective is Kingsley’s (for the most part, anyway), the politics becomes more the framework for the story than the story itself. If this is a horror story – and in many ways it definitely is – it’s not one we can easily forget once we reach the final page. The horror that envelopes Kingsley’s world is one that threatens our own. That said, there is a clear element of hope in this novel that connects it more to CHILDREN OF MEN than to the terribly dark ORYX AND CRAKE.
Bottom line, KINGSLEY is an imaginative and scary examination of a potentially devastating future told through the eyes of a young boy. If you’re considering this for a teen reader, please be advised that there is some profanity, as well as a few disturbing sexual situations. Nothing about the novel is graphically inappropriate, however, and all of the language is pretty commonly used today, even by teens. This would be a great novel to read along with your kids – I’m sure it would stimulate some real and meaningful debate.
These are three of the questions that author Carolyn O'Neal has painstakingly thought through. The result is a tightly plotted sci-fi in the vein of the MaddAdams trilogy by Atwood. The science that explains this particular dystopian future was well researched and accessible, interesting enough that I got the double pleasure of feeling like I learned something at the same time that I enjoyed a good piece of fiction. The plot twists kept me turning pages-I read it in two evenings!-and the characters were very real; relatable even when they were at their worst. I would definitely recommend this book!