February 11, 2013 by Heidi
Title: Dualed [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: Elsie Chapman [Website|Twitter|Facebook]
Standing: Book 1 in the Dualed series.
Genre: Young Adult, SciFi
Published: February 26th, 2013 by Random House BFYR
Format: Hardcover; 304 pages
Source: ARC from publisher via NetGalley
You or your Alt? Only one will survive.
The city of Kersh is a safe haven, but the price of safety is high. Everyone has a genetic Alternate—a twin raised by another family—and citizens must prove their worth by eliminating their Alts before their twentieth birthday. Survival means advanced schooling, a good job, marriage—life.
Fifteen-year-old West Grayer has trained as a fighter, preparing for the day when her assignment arrives and she will have one month to hunt down and kill her Alt. But then a tragic misstep shakes West’s confidence. Stricken with grief and guilt, she’s no longer certain that she’s the best version of herself, the version worthy of a future. If she is to have any chance of winning, she must stop running not only from her Alt, but also from love . . . though both have the power to destroy her.
Elsie Chapman’s suspenseful YA debut weaves unexpected romance into a novel full of fast-paced action and thought-provoking philosophy. When the story ends, discussions will begin about this future society where every adult is a murderer and every child knows there is another out there who just might be better.
Every once in a while a book comes along whose premise is so utterly captivating that you know you have to read it. You also know there’s a good chance it won’t work, but that ever so slim possibility that it will be amazing is what led me to Dualed. But I’m going to tell it to you strait people: this book makes no sense. You may really like it regardless, and I won’t blame you one bit–it has a lot of action, a fast pace, and is incredibly engrossing. But it makes no sense.
Dualed is a book that will polarize readers. The premise of Dualed, the idea that you grow up in a city with a physical ‘Alt’ or double whom you must kill/be killed by before you turn 20 is astoundingly brutal. By choosing to write in a first-person-present-tense narrative, Chapman manages to draw readers into the story and make it sickeningly personal. For some readers, this is what will draw them to this story. West’s tale becomes your concern so easily, it is gripping, violent, and disturbing in ways that will captivate an audience. However, it is these same qualities that will cause a faction of readers to push away from Dualed. It can easily feel too personal, will sicken many, and quite frankly I’m already pitying the libraries who will receive complaints from parents about the level of violence.
Chapman, however, handles the violent aspects of Dualed very cleverly. She places us in Kersh, a city where violence, murder, and death are a part of every life. What we see as brutal, they see as survival and necessity. I will argue in many cases that the violence in books should not be the determining factor for readers, but that it is the underlying ideas and philosophy that matter most. Dualed, judging by the blurb, is so convinced that it has these philosophical conundrums that will make readers think, but I disagree whole heartedly. The world building just wasn’t there to back this up, leaving the violence as more of a shock factor than a tool.
Here we get to the crux of my issues with Dualed. Chapman gives us a society with an intensified survival of the fittest mentality, but provides little in the way of foundation for that world. One could try to think of Kersh as a SciFi version of Sparta–a city-state where children are trained from a young age to be warriors and the weak are left to die–accept for the fact that with the level of technology, this makes no sense. Kersh genetically engineers doubles of every single child in the city with the intent that one double will kill the other thus proving themselves the stronger and more worthy of the two to protect the city. In survival of the fittest societies we might see weak or sickly children abandoned to die of exposure, and weak adults kept from reproducing, in Kersh…no one should be weak. They have 100% control over the genetic make up.
Okay, so maybe it relies heavily on nurture rather than nature–what schooling and drive are put into these individuals throughout their youth. But this doesn’t really add up either. Children can be made ‘Active’ anytime between the ages of 10 and 20, ‘Active’ being the month in which they have to kill their Alt or be destroyed themselves. And yet, training is unavailable (other than privately within families) until students are around 14, and combat training is unavailable until 16. So how does activating 10 year olds and making them murder one another strengthen society?
Essentially, Chapman has created a world that makes no sense (I could list a lot of other questions I have, but won’t for TLDR purposes). To her credit, she does have a certain amount of world building aspects meant to counter these questions. For example, there are societal deterrents to killing your Alt when you are Idle (not yet Active), or for parents/anyone else to kill someone else’s Alt, but in the end things just didn’t add up for me. How can a society be making itself as strong as possible by sanctioning the brutal murder of over half their population?
Unfortunately, on top of my world building issues, I also felt there were major flaws in the plot. For example, early in the story (early enough that I don’t consider this a spoiler despite the fact that it’s not mentioned in the blurb–in fact, if I’d known this I would have been more excited about the book–but feel free to skip to next paragraph if you’re worried), West signs up to work as an assassin. Now, she shows up, stomps her feet a bit, and they sign her on. They don’t question who she is, where she came from, what her skills and capabilities are–nothing. And anything they do question her on, she throws a fit over. As if it makes perfect sense to let a 15 year old into your underground operation when you know nothing about them and one misstep will get you all killed by the government. What?
I felt that so much of Dualed was too easy and convenient. It was a cool concept, but it could have gone in so many directions that made more sense than it did. I was unable to connect to the characters, which makes sense in a world where death knocks frequently on all doors, but ultimately I just didn’t care. I do not see room for this story to continue as a series, and though there were definite positive aspects (it is well written, and also yay for multicultural characters), I don’t see myself recommending this book when there are so many others out there who ask better questions using the same formula.
Likelihood that I’ll be back for more: Nada. While there were definite good aspects to Dualed, I have zero interest in this world or these characters as a series.
Recommended for: Fans of Hunger Games, Battle Royale, Sparta or Lord of the Flies that enjoy the brutality/action so much they don’t care if it makes sense. I will say that a lot (most) readers have enjoyed this one much more than me. Please go check out some of their reviews and form your own opinion.
Get a second opinion:
The Flyleaf Review – “An original premise, a fast pace, and an unconventional heroine were all positives. But gaps in the world building, a mediocre romance, and a complicated heroine that I had trouble connecting with fall on the negative side.”
A Reader of Fictions – “Dualed is an action-packed thrill ride that will be perfect for fans of The Hunger Games or Divergent who are willing to overlook some weakness in world building in exchange for adventure and drama.”
The Midnight Garden – “I’ll also read the sequel when it comes out next year, although it’s with the hope that some of the logic questions and character development are addressed.”