Teen lovers battle against the economic caste system that separates them in this debut dystopian YA novel.
In The City, Noble Valet Bear is 19 years old and works for the Telladyne family. Bertram Telladyne’s pharmaceutical company provides drugs to citizens who have been neurologically enhanced with cerebral “Neurogems” and wrist “docks” for the injections. People in The City’s wealthy Highland are virtually connected and perpetually distracted. Their primary thrill in life is following the Idol, a young woman who is, according to announcer Dahlia Delachort, “our mirror, our voice, and our emissary to the future.” When Idol Vox Aslanian dies tragically, a new emissary must be chosen. The competition is held among Young Ladies from the Noble families. Among them is Lady Aleks Yukita, whom Bear has known since he was a Valet-in-training as a boy with her family. Bear adores Aleks because she is curious, passionate, and empathetic—traits the Idols tend not to possess. Aleks secretly spends time with Bear, originally a lowlander, as friends, and one night they sneak into the Monarch Estate’s archives, a trove of objects from the past. After the daring escapade, the two share their first kiss. They’ve also stolen film reels, which they’ll need help from citizens of the dangerous lowland to play. As the Idol competition heats up, Bear makes a new ally in Young Lady Marena Vexhall, who isn’t what she seems. She says that “Aleks doesn’t deserve to be the Idol. None of us do.” The sinister nature of the Idol slowly unfolds, and Bear wonders if escape from The City is possible.Opsal’s series opener skewers today’s shallow, capitalist society by pointing to the dystopia on the horizon. While smaller in scale than the Panem of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series, The City features superb worldbuilding that will rattle modern audiences. The LifeCast technology, for example, puts users in the Idol’s viewpoint, which the vapid may find entertaining, at least until “you plummet straight down” after jumping from a building ledge, as Vox did. Another captivating element is the NApp personal downloads, augmented reality tutorials that take individuals through activities such as walking, cooking, and dancing. This is a fun yet terrifying exploration of technology catering to people’s desire to split their attention into ever smaller pieces. The casual deadliness of the class divide is revealed when Bear must drive Bertram through the advertisement-saturated lowlands. The car is armored against fire from “radicals,” and cinematic prose has Bear “pop the BT-27 into reverse and drive backward down the highway while thin, pink slices of meat cascade down the tunnel walls.” Fans of reality TV will recognize characters like Chef Casper Fiori—a play on Guy Fieri—who has “bright orange hair” and an “aggressive handshake.” Even more biting is Young Lady Kallista Telladyne’s idea for a LifeCast in which 10 lowlanders receive makeovers and go “from garbage to glam.” Immersed in such a cringe-inducing backdrop, readers will root for outcasts like Bear and Aleks to tear it all down. Frequent twists complicate the heroes’ journey and will leave readers enthralled and eager for the sequel.
A clever and cutting fantasy that takes modern society to task for its corruption.