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The Summer Prince Paperback – July 29, 2014
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As the trio dances-often literally-around one another, June must negotiate between the extremes of stasis and post-humanism, learn to see beyond herself, discover the meaning of integrity, and maybe even save her rotten-at-the-core and best-beloved city. Luminous.” -- Kirkus Reviews, starred review
In this YA debut, Johnson paints a brilliant picture of a seemingly lush paradise hiding a core rotted by class stratification, creative stagnation, and disenfranchisement. Evocative, disturbing, and exhilarating, this story leaves much for the reader to ponder, from the nuanced characters to fascinating central themes, including the impact of technology and the role of isolationism in a perilous world. Like leaping into cold water on a hot day, this original dystopian novel takes the breath away, refreshes, challenges, and leaves the reader shivering but yearning for another plunge.” -- Booklist, starred review
In precise prose Johnson evokes an utterly foreign setting, complete with technologies that push at the limits of what it means to be human, and the relationships that delineate the social landscape are intriguingly unconventional and startling in their intensity. The story itself is thematically rich, encompassing the political nature of art in a time of vast upheaval, the potential of power to corrupt, the tension between tradition and innovation, and the toils and rewards of underground creative expression . An imaginative and thoroughly realized addition to the sci-fi genre.” -- Horn Book
"There's a great, fresh audacity to Johnson's YA debut." -- Entertainment Weekly
Rife with political turmoil and seeped in culture, this unique and highly fantastical dystopian romance is both intriguing and imaginative. Johnson excels at building rich and gorgeously complex worlds, and her prose shines with a sophistication that's uncommon in YA literature. This beautifully written novel will likely find a home with fans of Alison Croggon and Rachel Hartman.” -- School Library Journal
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The book is classified as YA, but really could be enjoyed by anyone. A brilliant book. I am the richer for reading it, and it truly made me discover anew the vigor of my Brazilian childhood roots. Thank you, Alaya Dawn Johnson!
Now to the bad side of the book - the world-building is distinctly weak. There are huge differences in tech levels between cities: people in Tokyo have mind uploads and people in Salvador have access to nano-machines capable of universal assembly. It's just not plausible that this sort of technology can not be smuggled into Palmares Três. And it's just not plausible that such a gap can be supported for 400 years.
Palmares Três itself is also weak. Citizens there have at least a limited access to nanotech and semi-sentient AIs, but people still work at menial jobs. Energy is produced by vats of algae in form of hydrogen gas (tip to the author: it's NOT poisonous) with the side-effect of making the lowest levels of the city incredibly smelly. It would have been trivial to switch to solar panels or isolate the vats from the atmosphere properly even without the wonder-tech of the future.
No, what makes this book interesting are characters and social commentary. Society in Palmares Três is really an inversion of our society. Women are in charge and men are considered to be the gentler sex (so it's considered OK for boys to cry but not for girls) and there are no men in the power structure (Aunties, but not Uncles) apart from the Kings. Bisexuality is considered so normal that there are no comments about it at all (which is a comment in itself, of course). Assisted suicides are OK. And so on...
And then there's the central theme of the book - of a society built on a ritual human sacrifice (even voluntary one). It's brilliantly written, go and read it.
Oh, and then there's a link to the Epic of Gilgamesh - Enki and Gil are partially inspired by Enkidu and Gilgamesh. I wonder why no other reviewers caught this link...