Review: Dualed by Elsie Chapman

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February 11, 2013 by Heidi

Dualed by Elsie ChapmanTitle: 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.”

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37 comments »

  1. SO glad you have your review up for this! I finished this one over the weekend and while I enjoyed it, it was simply for the thrill factor, I think. I was racing towards the end just to see how it would end but I was really bothered by a lot of things too.
    I totally didn’t even think of the fact that if they have total control over genetic make-up, why not eliminate weaknesses? That was an excellent point! Where I got caught up is… If they’re so anti-war and Kersh wants to close their borders to keep the war out, why in the WORLD would you set up a system where your children are learning to battle and are constantly fighting to the death? Doesn’t that seem counter-productive? I just didn’t get the concept. So if you can overlook a whole idea, the book was somewhat enjoyable haha.
    Great review – There were actually quite a few things that I didn’t even think of!

    • Heidi says:

      Yes, Brittany! The thrill factor is totally what got me through this book despite all of my issues. And yeah, I can see a city state that’s afraid of an impending war building up their defenses, but there’s a LOT of better ways to go about it than all of this murder. I’d be interested to find out what really IS outside the walls of Kersh, and if the danger is for real.

  2. I’m one of the few that actually liked this book quite a bit, but I completely understand why people don’t like it. There are some books where I really don’t get it, like with Mira Grant’s Nesflesh Trilogy, I simply can’t hear anything bad about it.

    The premise is amazing, but she didn’t come up with any way to set it up so it makes a lick of sense. Honestly, it would have made more sense if it had been some sort of supernatural doppelganger scenario than as a science fiction with genetic engineering. Also, you can pretty much assume that if the author infodumps all of the “world building” in one paragraph that it’s really not the focus.

    She does a nice job with the violence, I agree. The descriptions of the fight scenes are top notch.

    On top of how silly it is that they can be activated before the receive training, there are so many ways this doesn’t make sense. What about when both of them are weak, non-soldier types. They’d be much better off keeping both alts alive and killing both in others. If they’re going all genetic engineering-y, why not just build yourselves some super soldiers and be done with it.

    I hope the next book clarifies some things. Maybe there’s a twist that it doesn’t really matter at all and it’s some insanely expensive way to keep people from paying attention to the government. Actually, I don’t think it CAN make sense. She would have been better off rooting this in a fantasy world, because then you can just make your own internal logic. It’s more forgiving than the real world.

    I actually really liked West, though, which is the main difference. The only person I know who really did like this bonded with West as well. That seems to be the key difference.

    Also, thanks for linking to my review. :)

    • Heidi says:

      I agree, things still have to make sense in fantasy, but you can create that internal logic by which to play–that might have been a better choice for this type of story. I can totally see how bonding with West could make a person really enjoy this book–there are so many great aspects about it, and maybe if I connected to West at all I would have enjoyed those more and minded the world building less.

  3. I 100% agree with all the points you made here, Heidi. Like you, I was very excited to read this because the premise had so much potential, I really hoped that Chapman could pull it off. But not very far into my reading I quickly figured out, like you, that this book just really made no sense at all.

    I think that I could have set aside all those nagging questions with the world building and enjoyed this book, but my main issue really did lie with the character of West. I couldn’t believe she thought signing on as an assassin was the right move. And then she all but runs and hides when her own alt comes calling. And the brutality of her assignments and her actions is something that never, ever sat well with me. So cold and impersonal for a girl who took everything else very personally.

    And I love what you said Kersh being like Sparta, raising soldiers and leaving the weak to die. Great, great comparison.

    Because of the way the book ended, and because I am HOPING that the next phase will be West and the others trying to figure out how to stop what the Board is doing, I do want to continue with this series. But I completely get why you won’t. I’ll have to cross my fingers and hope for the best:)

    • Heidi says:

      Right? You know what I WISH would have happened? I wish that her Alt would have attempted to hire a Striker to kill West…I just thought that could have been such a cool place for the plot to go once West signed up to be a Striker, but when it didn’t it just seemed silly that she did that at all.

      Even though I’m not planning to continue, I’m really interested to see what you think about the next book in the series!

  4. Per usual, I appreciate your honesty and ability to review a book even if it wasn’t for you.

    What slays me about this is the POTENTIAL within. I feel like a all star editor or another year of working on the book may have yielded different results? At the very least culled some of the inconsistencies and fleshed out the world building a bit.

    • Heidi says:

      Yes! I do feel like more time/effort on the part of the editor and author could have made this book amazing, and it makes me sad that they just don’t see this/don’t feel like they need to put in that effort. Ah well.

  5. I think I liked this book more than you did, Heidi (3.5 stars, though not tipped up on GR) but I am totally in agreement with you on your criticisms. I was so bothered by West becoming an assassin as well, and there were many gaps in logic. Not explaining certain things works in film, but not in books, so it was disappointing that there was so little effort made to address some of the obvious questions.

    I do think some of the worldbuilding was interesting, as you said. And I liked West enough, and the fantastic way the author writes action scenes enough, to keep going with the series for now. We’ll see how it goes!

    Thanks for your review. :)

    • Heidi says:

      Yes, I think that we ended up seeing a lot of the same highs and lows, you just enjoyed the highs more than I did. :)

      The action was GREAT–it’s what grabbed my attention and got me through this book.

  6. Everything I’ve read about this book sounds like what I thought after reading Marie Lu’s Legend: high quality concept, lackluster execution. Am I just missing them, or has it been a while since the launch of a really good dystopian series?

    • Heidi says:

      Nope, it’s been a while. Once a genre gets flooded, people really stop trying (look at what’s starting to happen in YA fantasy–so many duds getting big hype). I actually haven’t read Marie Lu’s series for that exact reason. I can see all of the reasons people are loving it, but it sounds just so popcorn dystopian to me that I don’t think it’d be the right fit.

  7. When it comes to issues that make or break a book for me, world-building is one of the first. If a book has poor world-building, there is nothing anyone can say or do to get me to read it, so I’ll definitely be steering clear of this one. I know exactly what you mean about wanting to give books a shot on the small possibility they’ll be amazing – and I feel like I do that a LOT, and still do despite wanting to just stick to books I know I’ll like – but I’m sorry this was the case here. I think that’s one of the most acute forms of book disappointment. *sigh* I hope your next read is a whole lot more satisfying, Heidi!

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks, Keertana! I followed this up by reading what’s been my favorite read of the year, so well worth it! Yes, world building is a must for me…I think the most recent exception might be my liking Crewel as much as I did. I think that book just hit me at the right time and I ended up liking it more than I think I would if I read it again now…mood can really make a difference sometimes!

  8. Oh noes! I wanted you to scream with joy over this one so that I could selfishly be happy that my own reaction would likely match it. NOW I’M SCARED.

    • Heidi says:

      Sorry, Ash! I hope you at least give it a go…I DID make it through the book which says something about how fast paced and gripping it was, even if I had too many questions to really enjoy it in the end.

  9. Brandy says:

    I have been going back and forth on whether to try this or not, but this: “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. ” decided it. The answer would be: NO! Not for me.

    • Heidi says:

      Glad I could help you decide, Brandy! I DO think this book has a wide audience out there, but it’s going to be a very particular one.

  10. Have you read DIVERGENT? This is exactly how I felt about that one. Except I actually did enjoy it quite a bit — but I thought the world required far too much active suspension of disbelief.

    • Heidi says:

      I have NOT read Divergent. I had wanted to, but I usually wait till series are done publishing, and the overly aggressive campaign for Insurgent kind of frightened me away. Good to see people saying the world building require such a WSOD, makes me feel I’m not missing anything I’d love.

  11. VeganYANerds says:

    I am thoroughly confused by this world, Heidi! Already I want to know why there need to be two of them and I have a feeling this would feel a bit weak for me too.

    This is a great, balanced, informative review!

    • Heidi says:

      Mmmhmm…I mean, what happens if both in a pair are weak? What if both are strong? There’s no accounting for these types of questions in this world, and I just can’t imagine how it would ever get this way.

  12. Reynje says:

    Shame this one didn’t really deliver – because the concept seems really interesting. It really bothers me when the plot feels convenient or lacking in logic. Safe to say this one probably isn’t for me..

    • Heidi says:

      Yeah, it just didn’t follow through on the concept, which kills me because it could have been so good with a bit more work!

  13. If the raging popularity of DIVERGENT is any indication, a lot of YA readers don’t care about plots or premises that make sense. Thanks for the informative review…I’ll be able to book talk this without having to read it!

    • Heidi says:

      Yep…that’s pretty much the #1 reason I haven’t read Divergent…I just don’t think I could take the world building. I still see this one being very successful for those readers who don’t mind though!

  14. Lauren says:

    Oh I’m so disappointed with Dualed! I had such high hopes for this one, and it seems everyone is having serious issues with the world-building. Still I might give it a try. I’ll just adjust my expectations.

    • Heidi says:

      Yes, I think going in knowing that the world building will be weak could really help here. It IS great action, and absolutely flies by, so if you adjust your expectations you might still really enjoy it!

  15. Jasmine Rose says:

    Gerbadurb. I was really looking forward to this one, but it sounds like it’ll be a disappointment. I have an ARC for review, so I’ll probably still try to read it, but at least my expectations are lower, I suppose.

    • Heidi says:

      I actually hope you DO try to read it, Jasmine! I’d be interested in your thoughts. A LOT of people are really enjoying this one, like I said, I can see why, I just couldn’t get past the world building at all.

  16. I agree completely with your review. Too much violence, too little world building, and it was not really a book I liked all that much. I gave it a 3 star rating because there were parts of the book I really liked, but ultimately I will not be back for more either. Fantastic review, Heidi.

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks, Kara! Yeah, I actually don’t even mind violence when there’s a good reason for it, but there just wasn’t here and I hate when something feels like it’s just there as a shock factor. There were great aspects of this book, but I’ve gotten pretty grinchy with my ratings as of late. 😛

  17. Jamie says:

    Hmmm I am so thankful for your honest review. I just don’t think this one is going to be for me. I can handle some weaknesses in worldbuilding when it’s action packed and captures my attention but I just don’t like, as you said, that everything seems SO easy and some of your examples of things that just don’t make LOGICAL sense just are throwing up red flags for me. Like with the assassin bit.

    Overall what I’m getting from reviews, and so appreciating your very fair but honest review, is I’m going to skip this one because it’s just ok. I can find other engaging and action packed books elsewhere with perhaps a little bit better worldbuilding.

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks, Jamie. YES, sometimes I can overlook when a book is lacking in an area when it excels in others to the point that I don’t necessarily notice. With this one I kept being taken out of the story because I just couldn’t help but be distracted.

  18. […] of having a stronger army IF the war ever broke through. Heidi from Bunbury in the Stacks had a great review that even opened up more questions I didn’t even know I had – I won’t go into all […]

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