by Elsie Chapman
February 26, 2013
Random House BYR
Source: Around the World ARC Tours
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. (Goodreads Summary.)
I've buried nearly everyone I love.
My Take On It
What would you do if you lived in a world where everyone is sterile thanks to an unforeseen side effect of a flu vaccination, life is now created in a laboratory, and for each person created a twin or alternate child is also fashioned and the two are then given to separate families to raise? Now imagine being told that when you turn ten years old you will be of age to be Activated, a sequence of code will appear as a spiral within your iris, and your manipulated genes will start a countdown. You will have one month to hunt down your alt and kill them or your own body will self destruct. This is the reality of Elsie Chapman's dystopian thriller Dualed.
This book has been at the top of my TBR list since I first read about it last summer. I love the premise, and I love the kick butt heroine archetype that West Grayer, main character of Dualed, clearly fits into. And overall I enjoyed the book, it was a very quick read at just over 300 pages, with non stop action that never let up from the first page forward. But there were some issues with the book that kept it from becoming an instant favorite read so I'll talk a bit about the good and not so good in my review.
Plot and World Building
The Good: As mentioned I really loved the premise of Dualed. There are a ton of dystopian/ post apocalyptic reads in the YA market, thanks to the success of books like Suzanne Collin's The Hunger Games. In many ways Dualed and THG have similar qualities. Both feature warped societies that force their most vulnerable members, children, to kill each other in order to survive. In THG this happens in an elaborate arena, much like a Roman gladiatorial event, and the entire event is manipulated and staged by the government then televised to the masses. In Dualed, there is no grand event with trained warriors fighting in one giant free-for-all brawl. Instead the hunting and killing of Alts takes place every day on the streets, cities and neighborhoods; sometimes in the quiet cover of night, other times in plain sight in front of dozens of bystanders. Both premise's are shocking and horrific. But I think the idea of walking down the street with the possibility that at any given moment a firefight could break out between two kids bent on killing each other, and you or your loved ones possibly caught in the crossfire, is far more frightening than watching a well planned and choreographed gladiatorial event like those found in THG. So kudos to Chapman for establishing a really scary and demented world.
The Not So Good: While I loved the premise of Dualed, I was disappointed in the lack of info and backstory given to the reader on why the world was that way in the first place. Other than the botched flu vaccine story, I'm still not altogether clear on why Kersh came to be. We are told that it is one of the last safe cities since the world went wonky. We are told that Alternates were created to weed out the weaker members of society and allow only the strongest to survive should the citizens of Kersh ever have to fight to keep the surrounding populations from invading and destroying their way of life. We are given some information on the different areas (neighborhoods?) found within Kersh. And we are given a ton of new terminology like AK (Assisted Kills) RK (Revenge Kills) and PK (Peripheral Kills) as well as Actives (kids between 10-21 who have been Activated and are on the deadline to kill) Idles (kids who are waiting to be Activated), and Completes (people who have successfully completed their mission--killed their Alts.)
But there were a lot of unanswered questions that nagged at me. What happens when someone is killed, by accident or otherwise, before Completing? Is their Alt home free? What if that Alt wasn't the "fittest" of the two, and the weeding out process fails? Why do you need to weed out anyone? Wouldn't having two Alts mean more soldiers for this possible future war? If you have two Alt's that are exact copies of one another, how can one really be more worthy than the other anyway? Genetically they are mirror images.
Also, who is this governmental body known as The Board, and how did they come into power in the first place? Is there a possible rebellion or resistance against the system at work, and when is this story arc going to present itself exactly? There are a few hints that something may be taking shape, but I could be dead wrong in my assumptions. I think this is the part that bothered me the most about Dualed. MC West, and all of the Actives we meet in the book, are harsh realists. The world they live in is not made for the weak. It's kill or be killed and training to become the most efficient, yet merciful, killer that they can be is drilled into their heads from an alarmingly young age. I get why West seems cold (more on her character in a bit) but I never really saw her or any of the other characters, Active, Idle, or Complete, trying to do anything to change the system. They never even discuss the possibility of changing the system. Now, in the interest of fairness, Dualed does end on a note that makes me think that a resistance of some sort may be at hand. I just wished that it had been addressed by West, Chord and the other characters in this first book. It would have been cool to know that even while they are having to do what they have to do to survive NOW, ideally they are hoping for a day when training kids to be killers and murdering your twin as a way to survive your own death, doesn't have to happen in the first place.
The Good: While West does fall into the category of Kick Ass heroine, she readily admits to not being the most efficient warrior. Her aim with a gun and knife is marginal at best and on more than one occasion she freezes, unable to move when a crucial moment is at hand. In addition she is absolutely eaten up with doubts of her own self worth. Coming from one of the poorer sectors of Kersh, the only training she has accrued is what is taught at her public school and among her older family members. Unlike some Alt's born to wealthier parents, additional training and mentoring was not economically possible for West and her siblings. Siblings and parents, by the way, who are dead now. West wonders whether she is more worthy than her Alt, and if she deserves to be the one to live. In fact, her doubt and fears not only cause her to freeze up but actually cause her to actively avoid fighting her Alt once she becomes Active, even while the self destruct deadline looms. This is not normal Kick Ass heroine behavior. But you know what? I loved it. I loved that West wasn't the perfect killing machine. I loved that there was always the question: Can she do it, kill her Alt? And if she can, will she? I loved that those questions were her own as much as mine. I love that these imperfections made West more human and made her character more three dimensional.
The Not So Good: Even though West was very well crafted as a character and made more real with all her inner fear and turmoil, I still had a very difficult time connecting with her on a personal level. On the one hand, I do feel for her situation. Her family is gone, she's on the run and she has all this conflict raging inside her. But while those things would seem to make her a more sympathetic character, the simple fact is she's cold, calculating, and ruthless. Worse still, she makes decisions that are so heartless, acts in ways that are so merciless, and does things that just felt so VERY WRONG, that I found myself feeling more repulsed then sympathetic towards her. Now, that being said, there are a few moments where she shrugged her icy exterior. The one that sticks with me most is a bond she forms with a young Active she encounters while squatting in an abandoned apartment. In that meeting we see a softer, more sisterly side of West, as she mentors this young boy who is also the run. But really those moments are few and far between. I realize that Chapman probably intended for West to come across in this way, cold and harsh on the outside while conflicted and torn on the inside. But even with this knowledge I still had a difficult time with some of the things West did in this book, especially courses of action that she took which weren't necessarily "do or die" in nature. Read the book and you will see what I am talking about.
The Good: Well for starters, there is one. It's understated and most definitely not the central focus. The love interest, Chord, is a great character. He's kind, caring, smart and loyal. I love that Chord is always there for West. He is also a techie which is cool and not afraid to spill his guts about how he feels about West when the time is right.
The Not So Good: The bad part of Chord always being there for West? It's an invitation for her to walk over him, which she does, REPEATEDLY. I get why West feels like she can't afford to get close to Chord. On the one hand, she's lost everyone else, she doesn't want to lose him too. On the other hand, as an old friend of her family, he is a stark reminder of what she has lost: her brother especially. But even still, West continuously snubs Chord and his help, even when it goes against her dying brother's final wishes, until it finally got to the point that I was hoping Chord WOULD drop her ass because I was sick of seeing her hurt him and sick of her feeling sorry for herself afterwards. The first couple of times was one thing. But it never seemed to let up and gosh, I was so aggravated with her, and him, and them by the end of the book.
The Good: I liked that the ending was solid. There is no cliffhanger or shocking revelation at the end of Dualed. The pacing was handled well as the story builds to the final showdown between West and her Alt. I thought the struggle was executed well and though there wasn't some epic battle at the end deciding the outcome, I was satisfied with the way it played out in the end.
The Not So Good: Although the ending was solid, I still finished the book with a lot of nagging questions and unfulfilled emotions. I didn't like that we only got glimpses into the personality of West's Alt and her family. We do get a brief insight into her life, but it wasn't enough to elicit any strong emotions from me. Because it would have added another compelling layer to the story, it felt like a missed opportunity. It also would have served to yet again demonstrate the terrible unfairness of the system as a whole, a system that must be changed at some point.
If there is one point where I can say only good things it would be Chapman's writing. Her style was very clear and easy to read. She has some beautifully haunting descriptions of the city of Kersh and it's different sectors. I was definitely impressed.
So all in all, Dualed was a bit of a hit and a bit of a miss for me. An original premise, a fast pace, and an unconventional heroine were all positives. But gaps in the world building, a mediocre romance, and a complicated heroine that I had trouble connecting with fall on the negative side. And yes, I know that the heroine was both a plus and a minus, clearly I am conflicted in my feelings. Will I be back for more? Yes. The sequel, entitled Divided and due out in 2014, is something I'll definitely take a look at because I really want to see if those unresolved questions a I have are going to be addressed. If you are a fan of high action/ fast paced books with unconventional and complicated characters than I'd definitely recommend giving Dualed a try:)
Find author Elsie Chapman here: website/ goodreads/ facebook/ twitter/ pinterest
Read more reviews of Dualed:
A Reader of Fictions
Dark Faerie Tales
The Secret Sanctuary of Books