Monday, June 17, 2013

The Summer Prince

Title: The Summer Prince
Author: Alaya Dawn Johnson
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Published: 2013
Rating: 7.5/10

Review: I picked up The Summer Prince based on a glowing review I recently read and while I am not nearly as impressed with it as the original reviewer, I did find the book interesting and fun.

The story is set on post-apocalyptic Earth, 400 years in the future with a very vague explanation of how it got that way. The main character, June, is an angry teenager from well-to-do family who lost her father and who is taking it out on her re-married mother and everyone else. In general, this is a story of growing up as much as anything else and while I like these types of stories, I found June's initial angst a bit unappealing. However, things get much more interesting towards the middle of the story.

The city in which June lives is called Palmares Tres and the culture there has a lot of Portuguese influences -- a number of Spanish words are used to describe various concepts which I had to look up the meaning of. The city is ruled by women, a Queen at the head and Aunties as her advisers. Every five years they elect a King, who seems to be generally a young man in comparison to 100-something year old Aunties and  the King is publicly sacrificed at the end of the year. The idea behind the sacrifice is that he chooses the next queen in his dying moments and a dying man cannot be bribed, etc.

So the story follows June and her friend Gil making friends with the latest Summer King, Enki. The story itself is decently plotted and once I've got into the book, I felt it drew me in and progressed very well. However, I think the social commentary was probably a more interesting part of the book than the plot itself.

The author attempts to showcase gender issues in some interesting ways, but doesn't always do it consistently well. For one, the mores allow both different- and same-sex partnerships and give them identical status. It's an interesting idea, but I find it strange that whereas June mother seemed to dominate June's father, the roles are reversed when she gets married to another woman. The idea that everyone's bisexual is easier for me to believe than a gender role reversal in mid-life.

A number of other conflicts play a major role in the book: old vs young, technologically progressive vs conservative. In fact, it felt a bit like an overload to have all of these conflicts -- but in general it worked and made me think along with the main character about the issues involved. However, I do think it would probably work better if one or the other was explored more in depth instead of just heaping on everything.

The writing itself was somewhat mediocre, but the style was easy-going as one might expect of a YA book. The characters were interesting, but at times a little over-angsty. The world-building was really cool and is probably the strongest part of the book. All-in-all, I would recommend it.

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