This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.
Oh hi there. Today I’ve mostly been reading Eos, by Jen Guberman.
I’m torn when it comes to characterising this book as a young adult dystopian sci-fi in the vein of Maze Runner and The Hunger Games, but those were the stories I was reminded of as I was reading. That’s just a risk of this subgenre, and I know it will read as a point in favour to some and a point against to others. Personally, even though I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of young adult dystopian sci-fi, it’s solid entertainment and Eos Dawn can easily stand next to Katniss Whatsherface without feeling self-conscious.
And just for the record, I didn’t hate the Hunger Games series as I read it. It was good escapist fun and said some interesting things about humanity. Eos, in my opinion, might say even more (potentially) – and that’s pretty darn cool. I’d watch movies of this, and I’d definitely snoot about how I read the book first, and the book is better. Also I read it before it was cool.
Anyway, let’s get into the meat a bit more.
Eos tells the story of a post-cataclysmic-war world where the known population is restricted to a handful of cities because of the radiation and other devastation. Travel between cities is strictly controlled, and society frighteningly regulated. Any threats to this regulated existence, from violent crime to just kind of being a sassmouth, are neatly removed and placed in “exile towns” according to their category of non-conformity. This is a rather cool concept and makes for a nice self-contained story map (literally) with lots of potential for expansion. And the names of the exile towns are clever.
Eos Dawn is, at least on initial impression, an extraordinarily gullible and naïve thief who puts up with people being shits to her at least three more times than she should at the outset. And she’s given one, what, half-hour job to do each day and somehow forgets to do it after two days? Fuck me. But here’s the thing: that’s a very human and relatable set of failings (and it doesn’t really matter, since we don’t get bogged down in that bullshit pseudo-normal nine-to-five thing anyway). I’m just saying, it’s not hard to water a garden if that’s the one thing you have to do the entire day. I just – fine. Bygones. Moving on.
Eos isn’t your typical hero, who after an obligatory period of angst immediately sets about righting wrongs and taking names. No, Eos is a big dumb-dumb who isn’t really great at anything, and even a couple of learning curves and a training montage later, she’s still getting herself needled with knockout drugs (which seem to be everywhere, but are we even surprised? This is an authoritarian Everybody Be Nice dystopia after all). Everything she does is kind of seat-of-the-pants and she doesn’t seem to get bitter and broody about it. She just sighs and throws up her hands and goes you see what I have to deal with here? Her quest isn’t for justice and unity or anything else. It just seems like something she’s doing because it’s slightly more interesting than watering the goddamn – fine.
Yeah, I thought it was a fun read. There are some clumsy segments of dialogue and inserted thought-statements explaining what is going on in the story – they looked to be added in to clarify what had just happened in case the reader missed it, and in some cases they’re necessary because the scene was misleading, and in some cases they’re not necessary and serve to pull the reader out of the moment … but none of it ultimately interferes with the simple and highly imaginative narrative and setting.
Sure, there’s a few issues with the world Guberman has created here. It all seems very flimsy and prone to security breaches, and with all the apparent malcontents and people with … let’s be generous and call them skills … outside in the exile towns, it’s hard to believe they haven’t just busted out and overthrown the cities before now. Maybe the second and third books in the trilogy go into more detail about this. The nature of the war that destroyed everything is also unexplored, but that’s not a deal-breaker. We only need to know it happened. It wiped out things like birds and rabbits, but the hunting teams still bring in game … I’m not certain about that, but eh. It all works. The Fabian set-up and pay-off, once we get to it, seemed a little too miraculous to me. Some more earning of that coincidence would have been nice, but the ultimate ending of that thread helped me get over it.
And what’s with the daggers? They definitely mean something and we need to know.
As I said, this is the first book in a trilogy – it had a nice cliffhanger ending, leaving the reader all too ready to one-click purchase the next instalment for the ol’ kindle, but did not leave the first book wanting for a proper beginning, middle and end. I like the symmetry of the click … click storytelling device.
So what else have we got?
Solid and rather innocent young adult fare, barring the occasional assault-and-near-rape one should probably expect when detailing a journey through dystopian penal settlements populated almost entirely by specific types of violent criminals. Hey, at least there wasn’t a Fiddlerville. I award Eos twelve and a half shades of grey out of a possible you know the fuck how many shades don’t make me say it.
Not much violence in this story – a throat-slashing, a gut-stabbing and a head-on-floor bashing, along with some random fights and stuff … okay I guess it had its share of gore but I’m aware that we probably have some grimdark still to come in this contest so I’m leaving myself space to expand. Two flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.
How did this whole world happen? What was the nature of the war and is there anything left outside the (apparently) inhospitable nuclear wastelands? How are they feeding people now that Eos stopped watering the carrots (no I will not let this go)? How did they even start with the truck routes and lockup system and where are the rations coming from? Are they people? Is the mystery meat people? Why all the fuss over a key that can open stuff that can generally be opened in other ways? What are we missing from this story’s past? There’s a lot of WTF here, to be sure, but it’s mostly unanswered-questions WTF rather than the higher-grade uncut surreal WTF I need in my veins. Nevertheless, I’ll give it a polar bear dressed up as The Fonz out of a possible The Fonz dressed up as a polar bear.
My Final Verdict
Eos was an enjoyable read and was a great introduction to a fascinating and troubling world where society comes at the cost of all the things that make society robust and vibrant (but I mean, yeah, if people could stop stealing and killing, that’d be nice). A little more exploration of the different interwoven threads – the thieves who steal out of poverty and oppression, the noise polluters who are just speaking out against injustice, the privileged joy-riders who just got kicked out because therapy is hard – might have been nice to see, but there’s a lot going on under the surface. I remain uncertain just how much of a video game MacGuffin the assorted keys and boxes and the final goal were, but it was fun to watch it unfold. Solid three stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale.
 For … people who play the violin badly. What? What did you think I was going to suggest? Yeesh.