Series: Proxy, #1
Release Date: June 18th, 2013
Rating: 3.5 stars
Word Rating: Almost
Reviewed by: Kate
Knox was born into one of the City’s wealthiest families. A Patron, he has everything a boy could possibly want—the latest tech, the coolest clothes, and a Proxy to take all his punishments. When Knox breaks a vase, Syd is beaten. When Knox plays a practical joke, Syd is forced to haul rocks. And when Knox crashes a car, killing one of his friends, Syd is branded and sentenced to death.
Syd is a Proxy. His life is not his own.
Then again, neither is Knox’s. Knox and Syd have more in common than either would guess. So when Knox and Syd realize that the only way to beat the system is to save each other, they flee. Yet Knox’s father is no ordinary Patron, and Syd is no ordinary Proxy. The ensuing cross-country chase will uncover a secret society of rebels, test both boys’ resolve, and shine a blinding light onto a world of those who owe and those who pay. Some debts, it turns out, cannot be repaid.
This book came very close to being extraordinary. The plot, the politics, the characters, the humor--it's all lovely in theory. I just wish the execution had been better. I wanted the author to dig deeper almost every step of the way.
I'm gonna talk for a minute about the things that bothered me:
The Humor: This just didn't work for me at all. I understood how, in theory, the jokes could be considered funny, but it felt... You know what it reminded me of? It reminded me of the pilot of a comedy tv show, when the actors are still settling into the characters, and they and the writers haven't quite figured out what works for the voices of the characters. There was just something slightly...off. And the wink-wink future jokes, like saying "The Arctic will freeze over," as though that saying has replaced "Hell will freeze over..." I don't know, guys. (There was one moment that stuck out for me as genuinely funny: Syd has a crush on another boy, and he gets embarrassed when people see a bad photo of the boy. It's really honest and kind of charming.)
The Name Thing: In this world, poor kids aren't properly named--they're assigned names from a database of literary characters. I don't--hmmm. I'm not sure why this decision was made. It's weird and gimmicky. I get the tip of the hat to great works of literature, and I understand why Sydney Carton was a desirable choice for our hero, plot-wise. It just didn't work for me. I have theories but they contain massive spoilers.
Narrative Mode: We bounce back and forth, alternating by chapter, between two third-person limited perspectives--one focusing on Syd, the other on Knox. But occasionally, like when the characters first meet, we alternate between the two by paragraph, and holy cow is that ever jarring.
Grammar: There are a lot of typos and grammatical mistakes, and that's annoying if you consider that this book was published by Penguin.
The World: It doesn't feel lived-in. It feels kind of hastily cobbled together, like the author was in a hurry to finish writing and wasn't able to take the time to just sit and breathe in the world he'd created.
The Handling of Sensitive Issues: Knox likes to hit on ladies and sleep around, but he's kind of de-clawed from the very beginning in what feels like an attempt to make him likable. It made me feel manipulated. The other issue that is kind of weirdly tiptoed around is Syd's homosexuality and everyone's reaction to it. I think my issue with the portrayal here may be 100% attributable to my love of China Mountain Zhang, an absolutely perfect novel that follows a homosexual character through a future culture in which being gay is not tolerated. It did all feel a little wishy washy, though.
The One Girl: Only one of the important, named characters (there are maybe eight?) is female. She's a good character, but come one. This story doesn't take place in a frat house or on a military base; there's no excuse for such an oversight.
Logic: There's a big twist at the end that really upset me for IF THAT WAS THE CASE WHY DID NO ONE DO IT SOONER reasons.
I wanted to get the negative out of the way first so I could focus in on what I thought were the real strengths of the novel, and there are several things that really delighted me.
Diversity: Syd, one of our heroes, is both homosexual and brown-skinned. His awesome landlord/mentor is Jewish. London filled this story with people from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and it made the novel feel fresh and modern. Books full of straight white men feel like relics to me.
The Love Stories: I won't get specific because it's all so massively spoilery, but this stuff doesn't follow anything like the usual pattern, and I found it to be enormously refreshing.
Advertising: The characters are just constantly bombarded with targeted ads--like what you see on Facebook and Amazon, but with the added humiliation of their being projected for everyone to see like in Minority Report. Very, very fun.
The Explanations About Technology: We're given just enough info to keep things from getting confusing, and the information stream is cut off when things start to get boring. Very nicely done.
The Proxies: Scenes in which these futuristic whipping boys are tortured are horrifying without crossing a line into grotesque. And the idea of a two-hander about a rich kid and his personal whipping boy is pretty brilliant.
Religion: The way it is used (or not) feels modern, and I'm hoping some of it was foreshadowing things that will happen later in the series.
Proxy is genuinely good, and I think it's worth noting that my issues with this book are pretty similar to those I had with Marie Lu's Legend. That book's sequel, Prodigy, is one of my favorites of 2013, so it may just be that sometimes authors, no matter how talented, need a chance to settle into the world. I'm excited to see what he'll do with the sequel next year.