Saturday, 24 September 2011

review: The Unwanteds

by Lisa McMann
Aladdin, September 2011
middle-grade dystopian fantasy
ARC received from publisher (thank you!)

In the land of Quill, Alex always knew he was an Unwanted, ever since he showed his fatal spark of creativity. The thing that hurts the most, though, is the fact that his twin is a Wanted, even better than a Necessary like their parents. It can't be helped, though. But Alex and the busful of Unwanteds don't get eliminated like they've been told they'll be; instead, they are introduced to the world of Artimé, where creativity is encouraged. For if they are ever discovered, they will need all the skills they have to go to war.
The cover:

The illustrator captured all the best bits of the world on this cover. There's Alex, Lani, Simber (wicked name) the flying winged cougar statue (so. cool.) and the fire-breathing origami dragons. Thumbs up, Scott Altmann!

The book:

The Unwanteds' premise is like the reverse of Lois Lowry's The Giver: instead of a horrible fate hiding behind a facade, a horrible facade hides a wonderful fate. The imagination Lisa McMann has poured into the world of Artimé clearly shows in the wild creativity that practically spouts off the page.

The writing itself, however, pales in comparison. Thought Alex is clearly the main character, choppy jaunts into other characters' heads leave us confused as to who's truly important and who's firmly on the side. As well, it detracts from the mystery of Alex's magic and the tension between him and his brother. Short chapters, probably designed to keep the middle-grade reader going, make it episodic, so that the larger picture is difficult to piece together.

Another of the main issues I had is the fact that the plot is apparent from the start: the climax will be a big fight between Artimé and Quill. Period. Plus, you can't help asking: why? The concept of turning creativity into a weapon is awesome and cool, but there's no point to it. Yes, painting yourself invisible is crazy wickedf, but there's really too little to incite the war that takes over the book. It's just not believable.

Soak in the world McMann has created; it's worth your time, as long as you don't expect more of it besides lethal paperclips, stunning soliloquies and slash singing. And fire-breathing origami dragons. Those are just plain cool.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5