Matched by Ally Condie

Cover Image of Matched by Ally CondieCondie, Ally. Matched. New York: Dutton Books, 2010.

Plot: Cassia is thrilled that the Society has Matched her with Xander, her best friend. But when she puts the government-issued microcard into her port to review Xander’s information, his face disappears after a moment and another face pops on the portscreen. Ky. An Official explains that there has been a mistake, Xander is still her Match. Ky is an Aberration and can never have a Match. The Society does not make mistakes, though. Cassia’s entire world — her family, her health, her work — has been formed around Society’s decisions and her own confidence in the system. Now the questions, and the doubt, come slowly, but steadily. Cassia could accept the explanations handed to her and be happy, or she could have choice. She could create.

Setting: A futuristic society descended from Western cultures.

Point of View: First person (Cassia)

Theme: future civilization, government, autonomy, independence, love, self identity, coming of age, family, risk, technology, self expression

Literary Quality: Fast-paced and laced with poetry, especially that of Dylan Thomas, Matched is a thought provoking page turner. As Cassia catches a glimmer beneath the surface of the Society, questions bubble up about love, autonomy, order, health, family, technology, and happiness in the future that will resonate with readers today, as well. Writing and reading are dangerous in this imagined society, and while it is suggested that the role and increase of technology has expedited and eased the elimination and outlawing of learning to write and create one’s own words, readers are reminded of words’ power and hopefully will recognize that the tradition of illegal words is based solidly in history. The division of knowledge to prevent anyone from knowing too much in this civilization is likewise an old theme into which Condie breathes new life. While the questions asked and the answers gradually arrived at in Matched are complex, their delivery lacks the same nuance. The explicit morals and lessons border on being forced and preachy, and can feel at times like a lack trust in the reader. Nevertheless, this absorbing book is well worth reading, and will keep readers pondering Cassia’s dilemmas long after it has been shelved.

Audience: I would recommend Matched to readers ages 12 and up.

Personal reaction: Matched was totally addicting. I am glad I waited a couple of years to read it, because I could (and did) immediately check out the next installment, Crossed. I appreciated the gray area in Condie’s portrayal of the Officials and the Society–that Cassia’s own father, grandfather, and neighbors are Officials and partake in actions she dislikes even though they are people she respects and loves; that Cassia can see how a problematic system can still be successful and produce happiness and meaningful relationships. I couldn’t help comparing Matched to The Hunger Games trilogy, as I read, especially given the love triangle, but with no conclusive thoughts worth sharing for now. I loved the weaving in of and framing by poetry, the subversiveness of reading poems and learning history. I found myself wishing for more discussion surrounding ethnicity and race.  There is a comment at some point about how many ethnicities the Society includes or has Matched over the years, but nothing more than a passing mention. Overall, though, a very pleasant reading experience.


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Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Cover of Grave Mercy by Robin LaFeversLaFevers, Robin. Grave Mercy. His Fair Assassin. Book 1. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.

Plot: After Ismae Rienne’s childhood in the household of an abusive, turnip-growing father culminates in his sale of her to an equally abusive husband, she gladly takes an offer of refuge at a convent dedicated to St. Mortain, the god of Death. There she learns that her true father is St. Mortain, Himself, indicated by a nasty scar on her back brewed by the poison her mother took to try and expel Ismae from her womb. Ismae embraces her new role at the convent where she joins Death’s handmaidens in dedicating her life to the god and His desired assassinations. After completing her training in weaponry, poisons, history, politics, womanly arts, and her first two assignments, Ismae unwillingly enters into her next assignment posing as the mistress of Gavriel Duval in the court of Brittany’s young duchess, Anne. Her abilities to spy on Duval and identify any treachery on his part are thwarted by her growing affection for the man. With France and other parties threatening Brittany’s independence and future, time is running short for Ismae to collect herself and carry out her assignment. But as she begins to question her obligations to the convent, she wonders whether she has landed on the right side of good and evil.

Setting: 15th-century Brittany

Point of View: 1st person (Ismae)

Theme: Death, religion, romance, political intrigue, historical fiction, Brittany, France, mystery, murder, gender expectations

Literary Quality: LaFevers’ first entry in a planned trilogy grabs readers from the start and does not release them until the very last page. The blend of history, politics, mystery, fantasy, and romance along with well-paced chapters are sure to engage a wide variety of readers. Grave Mercy explores questions surrounding death, religion, gender expectations, love, and duty thoughtfully and with dark humor, but does not answer them completely (unsurprising given the additional novels to follow). LaFevers’ dynamic characters are most human in their combination of endearing and infuriating traits and moments. Ismae’s evolution and concerns over her self-identity nicely parallel the fears and transitions surrounding the fate of the young duchess and Brittany’s independence without being overdrawn. At the same time, readers will find it difficult to feel settled in this startling and provocative suggestion that in a strictly gendered world, women find power and agency in life through death.

Cultural Authenticity: LaFevers elegantly combines both real history and a fictional past in Grave Mercy. She also takes inspiration from mythology and epics. She has explained this process a bit in an interview at The Enchanted Inkpot noting that the most difficult part was paring down the political intrigue, which was even thicker in real life than in the book! Of course, the book coud be further enriched by a list of sources, but LaFevers’ website does offer further information and a select bibliography, as well as explanations on her creation of this fictionalized historic world.

Audience: I would recommend this book for readers ages 15 and up. As mentioned above, the blend of genres and topics should have wide appeal.

Personal reaction: Grave Mercy combines some of my favorite things to read (medieval European history, strong female protagonists, mystery, and romance) so well, I just couldn’t put it down. I did have some lingering questions about the outcome of the story that I expect will be answered in the rest of the trilogy. I felt particularly satisfied that I was never certain of the traitor’s identity until very near the end; new questions and doubts always popped up. I look forward to the next book!