Welcome to the inaugural “Drive-By Review.” It’s my way of passing along books in my TBR Pile on Steroids to you, the reader. I read the first 50 or so pages of a novel (might be new, might be not-so-new), tell you what I like or didn’t like, and give it a grade of A (wish I had time to finish it, and resent that I have so little reading time these days); B (I’m not head-over-heels but I am interested enough to keep going); or C (I’d keep reading but there are some red flags for me). If it’s a DNF (see yesterday’s post), I won’t cover it at all.
So, today’s book, chosen at random from my pile, is ASHES OF TWILIGHT, a dystopian YA novel from author Kassy Tayler, released in mid-November by St. Martin’s.
About ASHES OF TWILIGHT: Wren MacAvoy works as a coal miner for a domed city that was constructed in the mid-nineteenth century to protect the royal blood line of England when astronomers spotted a comet on a collision course with Earth. Humanity would be saved by the most groundbreaking technology of the time. But after nearly 200 years of life beneath the dome, society has become complacent and the coal is running out. Plus there are those who wonder, is there life outside the dome or is the world still consumed by fire? When one of Wren’s friends escapes the confines of the dome, he is burned alive and put on display as a warning to those seeking to disrupt the dome’s way of life. But Alex’s final words are haunting. “The sky is blue.” What happens next is a whirlwind of adventure, romance, conspiracy and the struggle to stay alive in a world where nothing is as it seems. Wren unwittingly becomes a catalyst for a revolution that destroys the dome and the only way to survive might be to embrace what the entire society has feared their entire existence.
Drive-By Review: So, no secret here: I like a good dystopian story and am longing for an adult dystopian to knock off my socks. This one is YA, as many of them are now, but I liked it. It surprised me with the richness and sophistication of its worldbuilding.
First, our main character, Wren, is a coal miner, part of a “lower class” of people who work and live belowground. They’re known as “shiners” because their eyes have over the generations adapted to low-light conditions and they have a funny, silvery cast to them. Wren likes to slip aboveground—something most shiners won’t do because of the danger, so she’s a witness when one of her close friends tries to escape the dome and tells her, as he’s dying, that he saw blue sky outside. All their lives, she and her parents and grandparents have been told the world outside the dome has been destroyed by a comet and that anyone who goes out will burn up. A minor negative—there was a lot of worldbuilding crammed into these early chapters so it could have moved along faster.
Because of its time-warp quality—the Dome was built in the late 1800s and so “technology” is coal- and steam-driven, there’s a steampunkish element to it but not enough to really qualify it as steampunk, at least not in the first 58 pages.
There’s a touch of romance, but not too much since this is YA, and Wren is a likeable, spunky character, although she does tend to stay inside her head a lot, voicing doubt after doubt. Also, there’s a secondary mystery building because Wren doesn’t know who her father is and there are hints that it will turn out to be a game-changer at some point in the story.
Kassy Tayler writes in present tense, which took a little while to get used to and gave the narrative a bit of awkwardness at first, but by twenty or so pages in, I didn’t notice it anymore.
As I finished reading on page 58, I found I really regretted not being able to go on, so I give this book an unqualified “A!” I hope the rest of it lives up to the promises; other reviews have been mixed.
I have two copies of ASHES OF TWILIGHT to give away—one is an ARC and one is a final copy. Leave a comment to enter…what’s your favorite dystopian story? (Or post-apocalyptic?) John Barnes’ Daybreak Zero is probably my favorite from among those I’ve read the last couple of years. If you’ve read Ashes of Twilight, what did you think of it—did the rest of it live up to the promise of the first 58 pages?