When people complain that young adult novels have nothing to offer the serious reader, it’s pretty clear to me that they’ve never actually read any YA. These new releases from Entangled Teen deal with issues ranging from human cloning and reproductive coercion to arranged marriages and people who ostracize anyone with “impure” bloodlines. Plus, dragons, because YA can get away with being a lot more fun than some other genres!
Going Down in Flames, by Chris Cannon
Bryn McKenna’s life is turned upside down just days before her sixteenth birthday when she finds out that her parents have been hiding something from her: She’s not human. Her parents are dragons who can shapeshift into human form, and she’s at the age to make her first shift into her dragon form. As if that wasn’t enough information to cope with, it turns out that the reason they’ve hidden this from her for so long is that they were exiled from the dragon community for defying their arranged marriages and eloping. For centuries, the Directorate has been keeping the bloodlines pure by ensuring that dragons only breed within their color, since each kind of dragon has different powers and social status. Bryn’s parents, however, fell in love and were willing to risk everything to be together.
Of course, it’s not safe for a newly-fledged (newly scaled?) dragon with limited control of her powers to be out and about in human society shooting sparks from her nostrils every time she gets pissed, so Bryn gets shipped off to the Institute to learn how to be a dragon. The problem is, a lot of people there hate and fear her because she’s a mixed breed with unknown abilities. She manages to make friends with some of the Black dragons, Zavien, Clint, and Ivy, but others want her dead. She has trouble navigating the conservative dragon society, especially while trying to keep her abilities a secret, but Zavien and others are working toward changing the rules and she joins their crusade since she has very few options as things currently stand (though she could become someone’s mistress, a fate she has zero interest in).
While I haven’t read too many books about dragons before so I can’t say how original it is, I liked the mythology Cannon set up. Red dragons like Bryn’s father are the only ones who breathe fire; Blue dragons (like her mother) breathe ice, Blacks shoot lightning, Greens are healers who create windstorms, and Orange dragons release sonic waves. Dragon’s Bluff, the nearby town, is populated by the descendants of the knights who once served the dragons, and in times of need they can still be called to serve.
I also liked the lack of a typical YA love triangle. Bryn flirts with Valmont, one of the knights of Dragon’s Bluff, and Keegan, a Red dragon who turns out to already be betrothed to another, but you pretty much know all along who she’s going to end up with (sorta). There’s some angst, we are dealing with teenagers after all, but it isn’t of the “which boy will I choose?” variety. The only real downsides were that the writing was kinda stilted in places, a few things were alluded to several times but never explained, and the ending is really abrupt. Some people might also be put off by the running schtick that Bryn can eat as much as she wants (cake every night!) without gaining weight due to her increased metabolism. I hope there’s a sequel, though, because I definitely want to know what happens next.
Perfected, by Kate Jarvik Birch
In the not-so-distant future, human cloning is legal and extremely wealthy Americans compete in lotteries for the privilege of purchasing “pets.” These are no ordinary pets, though — they’re young women who have been bred for petite perfection and trained in elite finishing schools to serve as accessories who please their masters. Number Eight from the Greenwich Kennel is purchased by one of the congressmen who fought hard for the legislation to allow the ownership of other people; something unspecified happened to his family’s first pet and it doesn’t look good for him politically not to own one.
Renamed Ella by her new family, she struggles to adapt to life outside the kennel. Etiquette training didn’t cover what to do when your new owner’s wife seems hostile to your presence, how to play with the family’s young daughter when you can’t read or swim, or how to deal with being attracted to the congressman’s rebellious son, Penn. Ella also never knew that there are activists who object strenuously to her status and want to rescue her; she doesn’t know enough to realize that she’s basically a slave and has no idea how she would function in the outside world that terrifies her. After all, defective pets who rebel get sent back to their kennel and disappear without a trace.
Of these three books, Perfected is definitely the most polished. The writing is solid, and it doesn’t suffer from the plot holes and logical flaws of the others. It’s disturbing as hell when the congressmen gives her a necklace with a pendant engraved with her name and the family’s contact info, since she has no idea that it’s basically a dog collar, and when his wife tries to convince him to spay her. It’s also a little creepy at first when Penn starts flirting with her, because she’s his property, but he turns out to be a much more decent person than his father. The ending was somewhat predictable, but the cliffhanger definitely leaves you wanting to know what happens to Ella and Penn next.
Mirror X, by Karri Thompson
Mirror X was the creepiest of the three books, and the one I’m least likely to pick up any sequels of. Cassie Dannacher wakes up one day to find out that she’s been in cryofreeze for over 1,000 years. (The Goodreads description says she was in a capsule in space all that time, which might have been more interesting, but some parts must have been rewritten along the way.) She also learns that a plague 600 years earlier left every woman on the planet infertile; the human race was only rescued by making clones from remains in cemeteries. They’re running out of corpses, though, and Cassie may be their last hope of avoiding extinction. The problem is, her doctors keep lying to her and she doesn’t want to be forced into a life of egg donation and back-to-back pregnancies, much less to consign her future daughters to the same fate as soon as they hit puberty.
There are some interesting ethical dilemmas in the book, but ultimately the situation is so disturbing that it doesn’t seem like there are any good options. If you were the only person who could save the entire species, would you be able to say no? But breaking someone down psychologically, lying, and withholding information at every turn isn’t the way to go about convincing someone to help you out. A lot of the big reveals (and lord, are there a lot of those) are telegraphed so obviously that you find yourself thinking the characters have to be pretty stupid not to see what’s going on. The romance with geneticist Michael doesn’t make much sense either, though again, at least there’s no real love triangle and she actually becomes friends with a few men in the hospital (one of whom is a clone of James Dean, because of course he is). Thompson also never explains why they can’t make multiple clones from a single corpse; Michael tries to throw out some Fancy Jargon but is hushed by another doctor, and it never comes up again. I also thought it was weird that food doesn’t seem to have changed at all in over 1,000 years, but I guess it was better than having people subside on weird nutritional powders or some shit.
All in all, it was an ok premise, but the ending got pretty convoluted and I’m not sure how much I care what happens next. Still, if you’re in the mood for a dystopia where people are being terrible out of desperation, not for sick enjoyment, this might be right up your alley.
Disclosure: Entangled Teen provided me with e-galleys of all three titles via NetGalley in exchange for my honest reviews.