I've read a lot of good books lately, but this one was the most fun book I've read in a long while. I think Mike got quite tired of me telling him that he should listen to it, too, and I even called my mom and told her that she must buy it for my twin brothers for Christmas. Must. It was an order.
The story begins with The Purge, an annual occurrence in the land of Quill where the Unwanteds are separated from the Wanteds. (You are an Unwanted if you show any natural inclination towards creativity in music, art, drama, storytelling, etc.) Alex is named as an Unwanted (he has been caught drawing with a stick in the dirt), but his twin brother, Aaron, is saved as a Wanted. (Incidentally, their parents are Necessaries, a group of laborers held in low regard.) The Unwanteds are taken to be eliminated in the Great Lake of Boiling Oil (sounds pleasant, no?), but upon arriving they are escorted past the mirage into a magical land called Artime. It is the home of the Unwanteds and is ruled by a wise and kind man named Mr. Today. Even though
Artime is kept hidden by magic, Mr. Today knows it is only a matter of time before Quill discovers them and a battle of power ensues.
You can see that the review across the top of the cover says, "The Hunger Games meets Harry Potter." While this comparison might be a bit extreme, I did find this book to be the perfect blend between dystopian and fantasy.
Speaking of fantasy, it is not my preferred genre, but the magic in this book was truly enchanting. In the land of Artime, the Unwanteds not only improve and perfect their talents, but they use those talents in magical ways...painting themselves invisible, drawing 3-D doors, singing enemies into a deep sleep, etc. I know I don't read nearly as much dystopian and fantasy as some people, but in a genre where there are so many spin-offs and retellings and hashing out of the same old ideas, this story really felt fresh and new.
The plot was captivating, the pacing perfect, and the characters unique and realistic. Occasionally I was frustrated when something was said that didn't make sense, and I wondered if I somehow missed or forgot some important detail. In the end though, everything was explained or revealed. I usually like stories where there are little teasers of future events or questions from the past which are gradually thought through and resolved, but for some reason it seemed more confusing than intriguing this time.
I listened to the audio, and I can't recommend narrator Simon Jones enough. I'm a sucker for British accents, but he really was top-notch. His voices were so distinct and varied that I could immediately tell who was speaking before I was told.
I can think of so many people I would love to recommend this book to. It's written for the 10-14 year-old crowd, and I have a couple of nephews in that age bracket who I'm sure would love it (if they haven't already read it). Even though Alex is the main character, there is another boy and two girls who make up his circle of friends, and much of the story is told from their perspectives, so I really think it would appeal equally to both girls and boys. But obviously, I also enjoyed it as an adult, and I can think of several of my friends who would also like it. In a few years, I would love to read it aloud to my boys and share the experience with them. And then, I already mentioned how many times I've told Mike that he should read it. So really, you should just get the audio, pack a bus full of friends and relatives, and all enjoy it on a road trip together. And if your destination is to somewhere new and fun, well then, even better.
P.S. It is the first book in a trilogy (the second installment just came out this month), but this story could easily stand on its own.