Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Dualed by Elsie Chapman

Title: Dualed
Author: Elsie Chapman
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Release Date: February 26, 2013
Pages: 304 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: E-ARC from the publisher
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: audiobook clip | book trailer | author website

Dualed (Dualed, #1)You or your Alt? Only one will survive.

The city of Kersh is a safe haven, but the price of safety is high. Everyone has a genetic Alternate—a twin raised by another family—and citizens must prove their worth by eliminating their Alts before their twentieth birthday. Survival means advanced schooling, a good job, marriage—life.

Fifteen-year-old West Grayer has trained as a fighter, preparing for the day when her assignment arrives and she will have one month to hunt down and kill her Alt. But then a tragic misstep shakes West’s confidence. Stricken with grief and guilt, she’s no longer certain that she’s the best version of herself, the version worthy of a future. If she is to have any chance of winning, she must stop running not only from her Alt, but also from love . . . though both have the power to destroy her.

Elsie Chapman's suspenseful YA debut weaves unexpected romance into a novel full of fast-paced action and thought-provoking philosophy. When the story ends, discussions will begin about this future society where every adult is a murderer and every child knows there is another out there who just might be better.


Writing reviews that overuse "I" are the bane of my existence, but this is going to be one of those reviews. Dualed is highly reminiscent of Divergent in a number of ways and there are therefore going to be many people who will love this novel, but Divergent was not my cup of tea when I read it last year and neither was Dualed. An intense storyline and a strongly developed main character kept me glued to my copy, but the most typical pitfalls of YA dystopian novels (a lack of strong worldbuilding and an overall message about society/people in general) strike again.

The book starts off with a bang; by the end of chapter one, West's older brother named Luc, is a Peripheral Kill/unintended casualty during his friend Chord's completion (which is what it's called when someone kills their Alt). West already came off as a very emotionally distant heroine after her other two siblings were killed by their Alts, her father committed suicide, and her mother was a PK. After the death of her only remaining family member, she became even more closed off and despite how difficult it was to connect with her, I felt like I knew her. This is one YA heroine I could pick out of a lineup and remember.

The storyline is a little repetitive in its action-close call-action-close call-action-close call format, but the story is nonetheless intense--and not just in its action sequences. I still don't understand why West did half of what she did during the novel, but the quiet power of her emotions throughout the novel made it hard to put down. With such intensity, a strong message about identity in a world where there is always someone exactly like you, the nature of human beings, or society was close at hand, right?

Unfortunately, wrong.

The identity theme would not have been difficult to tackle and surely would have been done well considering the power of Chapman's writing, but Dualed is only about the action and the killing. West's Alt is never even given a name; she goes the entire novel nameless. Halfway through the book, I'd developed my own ideas for how the girls might come together, trick the system, and bring it down so no ten-year-old would have to be activated and forced to kill someone ever again. They'd come to know one another as individuals, not just as each other's Alts. Sorry to ruin it, but nothing of the sort happens. The plot is a straight shot without any surprises.

Other messages that might be applicable to this novel are similarly ignored in favor of action. What the system does to families of the Alt who gets killed? Some minor coverage through West because her siblings both lost to their Alts, but otherwise nonexistent. The nature of human beings and their need for vengeance when their loved ones are hurt? There are strict laws against vengeance kills, but the laws in our world function exactly the same way and the family of a victim will still try to attack and/or kill the perpetrator despite the consequences. There simply isn't a plausible way for the world to get to this point, in my point of view.

Asking questions about the worldbuilding will get you nowhere. This is the setup: a cold vaccine caused irreversible infertility, the human race bwas kept alive via biological intervention, people fell back into war (how? I have no idea), and the city of Kersh was founded as the last safe place. The price of living there is killing the Alt who is created at the same time you are via gene manipulation. That's it, really.

The polio vaccine went through five years of human test trials before it was licensed. How long was the cold vaccine put through human test trials? Did no one notice the infertility side effect? This bothered me for the entire book due to the fact that this is all we get. My only choice is to take it and go with it and that is a worldbuilding method that almost never works for me.

Now then, the romance. Funnily enough, I do believe West and Chord love one another, but I do not believe in their romance even for a second. Their bond is demonstrated throughout the novel in how Chord never tries to stop helping West and how she constantly tries to kick him out of her life because she's afraid of getting hurt if anything happens to him, but I feel this is familial love, not romantic love. These two only come off as brother and sister to me, and it eventually turning into  a romance was a little strange.

The novel comes with a solid conclusion, a departure from the killer cliffhanger norm I've seen lately, and I have trouble seeing where its sequel Divided will go. Will we see the war taking place outside of Kersh, perhaps? Considering how much potential Dualed had and how swiftly it laid waste to that potential, I'm not sure whether or not I want to read in order to see if Chapman can hit the nail on the head this time or skip it with the thought in mind that it will be as much of a miss. There's a long stretch of time between then and now, so we'll see.

2.5 stars!

What am I reading next?: The Iron King by Julie Kagawa