Author: Ally Condie
Publication Date: October 2014
Publisher: Dutton Books
Pages: (hardback edition) 298
Rating: five out of five
Synopsis from Goodreads
For as long as she can remember, Rio has dreamt of the sand and sky Above—of life beyond her underwater city of Atlantia. But in a single moment, all her plans for the future are thwarted when her twin sister, Bay, makes an unexpected decision, stranding Rio Below. Alone, ripped away from the last person who knew Rio’s true self—and the powerful siren voice she has long hidden—she has nothing left to lose.
Guided by a dangerous and unlikely mentor, Rio formulates a plan that leads to increasingly treacherous questions about her mother’s death, her own destiny, and the complex system constructed to govern the divide between land and sea. Her life and her city depend on Rio to listen to the voices of the past and to speak long-hidden truths.
Oh man, this book was good. It quite happily grabs one of the top-spots on my imagined places list. If you can have wanderlust for a fantastical place then I have it.
The Below is a city deep at the bottom of the ocean, surrounded yet untouched by water. With metal trees and animal gods, it's an attractive mixture of some ancient mythical city and a dystopian, hellish future. The Below is a place for the privileged, and the Above the suffering - or so it seems.
What I liked about Ally Condie's writing is that I didn't only have a fantastic visualisation of the area, but of the characters. Rio, our protagonist, is probably one of the best written characters I've read. She goes through such a turmoil of emotions through the novel, but there isn't a moment where I couldn't sympathise. She doesn't always do the sensible thing and she doesn't always trust the people she can trust, and in some protagonists it drives me crazy, but every move she makes doesn't seem like some superfluous effort to sophisticate the plot, but is warranted. People aren't perfect.
This novel was so much about family, but not in a fluffy-bunny sort of way. This book is definitely not soft at all. We start with Rio and Bay's mother's death, and then we move onto Bay's apparent abandonment of Rio to go Above, despite the fact it's Rio who's always wanted to. The plot thickens: Why did Bay go Above? Why did their mum die? Who can Rio trust? To me this book was all about rebuilding trust and reshaping relationships, and dealing with a lot of familial feels.
Under all this is one of the Below's 'miracles': Sirens (people with the ability to convince and sway the judgements of others using the power of their voice). Sirens are controlled by the government to stop them getting too powerful, but Bay and Rio's mother hid a biggie by urging Rio to suppress her own Siren voice to stop her being taken by the government. Forced to speak in a monotone all her life, Rio doesn't quite know her own potential, and must rely on a mentor she doesn't trust to learn how to use it wisely.
The government perhaps isn't as benevolent as it seems on the outside, and there's a lot of corruption going on between the Above and Below. The key to finding the answers to her many questions, however, lies within knowing the extent of the corruption of the council.
A lot of things give great little, life-like features to the story, mechanical fish, scary co-workers, unnatural disasters, and illegal racing being some of them. My favourite was True, or should I say Rio and True together. They have a great relationship built on a sense of mutual understanding and empathy. And it wasn't sickly either.
Overall, I recommend this book to any fantasy and dystopian lovers! Plus, it's also an aesthetic beauty to add to your book-shelf.
Favourite quote: "They didn't care, or if they did, they didn't care enough, and now we're the ones paying the price of their extravagance."