I won this ARC from a blog giveaway, thanks! This has probably been my favorite read in the past few weeks, but I couldn't give it five stars for issues that I couldn't ignore.
The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau has been on my list to read for a long time. It's been compared to the Hunger Games, and stars Cia, who is in one of the colonies who have not had any candidates selected for The Testing in a long time. The Testing has been put in place after war has devastated the world to find the best candidate leaders of the country to go to University. No one in Cia's town knows much about The Testing except for her own father, who refuses to speak about it. Cia is chosen with three other people in her class, and she starts a difficult and treacherous journey where either death or glory can await.
I admit I was really into this book. Cia is a great main character-- she's humble, gracious, and has a good heart. But at the same time, she is super intelligent and has obviously been trained well by both her school and her father. Other reviewers have mentioned that she may be too perfect, at least in the sense of being able to do things and always being right for the most part, at least about her instincts on traps and puzzles. I agree. It would have been nice to see other characters contribute as well. They obviously were smart enough to get there.
Some reviewers were upset with how "boring" the testing part was, but actually, I loved that part. I really enjoyed the section where Cia figures out something key that allows her to pass to the next test and thought it was pretty clever. The test revealed something about several of the characters. I did think it was odd that even though her father gave her the warning not to trust anyone, she seems to have developed a sixth sense suspicion, which seems almost too good to be true. I also liked the descriptions of the other tests. It shows what kinds of things Cia is good at before she gets tested further in the third portion of the test.
The journey Cia takes with her love interest, Tomas, from thereon out was gripping, and I wanted to know what each of the characters were hiding. I was definitely surprised by some of the outcomes. This was the first book in a while that I was contemplating buying the next book on Kindle immediately to see what happens next.
That said, other than the issues I alluded to above, there were a couple of other problems. I agree with others that the love connection between Cia and Tomas seems kind of quick and unbelievable. There are "hints" to the past, about looking longingly at each other during a dance, but we never see that, so we never really feel for them and root for them. And lastly, the world building isn't perfect. I definitely don't get why people have to die during the Testing. And what happens to the people who fail? It isn't clear what happens to them-- but I feel like the book hints to them being executed. It seems to me that people that put their own gain above the needs for others (meaning people who kill to "win") would probably not make very good leaders, but hey, that's me. Hopefully, more world building will be revealed in the next book.
Overall, there are definite similarities between this book and The Hunger Games, and probably has been in somewhat inspired by that trilogy, but I believe it stands on its own. I don't know if it's because I haven't read a dystopian in a while (I burned myself out like many other reviewers and then took a long break), or what, but I really like the "test" aspect to the whole thing, which was definitely lacking in The Hunger Games, which it should, since that wasn't the focus.
I think this was a great first novel in the trilogy, and Charbonneau definitely has a talent at keeping us on our toes and glued to the page. Even though I have 20 more books to get through, I may just take a break from my reading list and pick up the second today.