“Snow and ice, miles and miles of treacherous wilderness…Let’s be honest—it’s not the scenery that has every citizen in the Spire clamoring to see the Continent. It’s the war.”
Vaela Sun is going to the Continent. Citizens of the Spire, a peaceful federation of nations, rarely get a chance to visit the mysterious Continent, but it is the focus of much curiosity and speculation, for it is home to a curious anachronism of the past: warfare. On the Continent, two “uncivilized” societies engage in bloody battle, and Spirians are drawn to witness the barbaric pageantry.
“Living in the Spire is like looking at the world from behind a veil—we don’t have a true sense of what things are like. Not really. I just want to see something real.”
Soon, Vaela and her parents set off on the tour and find themselves marveling both at the landscapes and the foreign spectacle of the savages at war. But Vaela is wholly unprepared for the tragedy that brings her face-to-face with the violence of genocide. YA Alternative History/F/SF. Expected publication: January 3rd 2017 by Harlequin TEEN.
No book is perfect, but this one comes pretty close to “genre perfect.” Crossover appeal will be limited by a few elements, but the book will find many eager readers among the YA, Alternative History and Fantasy crowds. I suspect fans of Veronica Rossi’s wonderful Under the Never Sky trilogy will love The Continent.
The universe quickly establishes itself as a sort of “alternative Victorian.” No magic, no monsters and no huge tech changes (except, perhaps, a heavier reliance on steam than on other sources of energy). There are two main changes: (1) the worldwide peace treaties that boast 300 years of success (excluding the Continent, of course) and (2) the general land formations and their ethnic distributions.
What I Liked :
(1) The storyline is perfectly set up and paced. Literally, by 5%, Vaela is climbing on board a “heli-plane” for her tour, and before long, she’s mapping the Continent from aerial views, feeling horribly transfixed by the violence and tramping around on the actual terrain.
During this period of further setup, readers spend a lot of time with Vaela’s very Victorian sensibilities and her rapturously loving and proud parents, and nothing terribly exciting happens. This will irritate some readers; but I was never bored, even during quiet periods of setup and recovery, because I knew Vaela’s happy, naïve existence would not last. Drake foreshadows the tragedy in store for this rich Victorian heiress, so I knew her happiness was temporary.
And when the tragedy comes, at exactly 20%, it’s just as shocking as if I hadn’t been expecting it. Certain details enliven the setup and the twist and make it far more engrossing than it would have otherwise been. [Highlight to read spoiler: I was so shocked when Aaden took the escape pod!!!!!!] It begins to highlight the theme of the work—that savagery and nobility can be found in any society.
(2) I was engrossed in Vaela’s point of view and character arc, as she matured and interacted with other characters throughout the book; I love how she overcomes the Victorian attitude that exertion is unladylike. She becomes a much more confident, capable woman.
“’You would stay Noro’s hand in defense of a man who knowingly slanders your honor?’ ‘Oh, honestly, you Aven’ei!’ I say. ‘My honor is intact, whether Shoshi slanders it or not. I don’t need his good opinion to know myself.’”
(3) It surprised me to find that the warring tribes of the Continent were of an Asian-like culture, and I enjoyed the Asian-flavored details, like the dance of manners and the languages.
You May Not Like This Book If… :
Readers of fantasy and historical fiction might find a moving read in The Continent, depending on what they’re looking for. The main reason I say “crossover appeal will be limited” has to do with the 300 years of world peace. How did it happen? The Continent never really explains the history of the treaty. The book gives most of its attention to the characters and their reactions to seeing, experiencing and coping with violence for the first time, instead of developing the worldbuilding history. As with many novels, good writing can help suspend disbelief, and I was hooked once the story took off toward the Continent; but some readers will not be satisfied with this.
In addition, readers who require complicated, well-detailed milieus may be disappointed, as the book focuses much more on humanity than on how the world itself works. For example, the solution to the war, in this book, makes war seem overly simple. Also, the world displays an utter lack of religious development. Nobody swears or prays or does anything remotely religious (or irreligious), during the whole book, even before going to war and even though Asian cultures often have strong religious components; it’s as if the book is sanitized from anything controversial. Perhaps the insinuation is that religion has been eradicated right along with war; but in that case, at least one of the warring tribes would be religious, wouldn’t it?
Finally, I would not recommend this book to readers who value a tactically complex plot or riveting action over emotionally complex work. They might find this book rather boring. There are few battle scenes and no quick-thinking, clever plot fixes.
If you like YA, READ THIS BOOK. I recommend it, in fact, to anyone who enjoys emotional complexity, even at the expense of plot complexity. Vaela is a fabulous heroine finding her way in a world that has suddenly thrown her the king of curveballs. I love every word of her journey and I can’t wait to try the audio version!
Thanks you so, so much to Keira Drake, Harlequin TEEN & Netgalley for my review copy of The Continent.
Update 11/12/2016- On the recent controversy criticizing this book as “racist”: My original thoughts still stand. Portraying racism does not make a book racist (see Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Earnest Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying), especially when the point of the book is about overcoming cultural assumptions and superiority. Young people need books that help them understand racism; shielding them from racist thought does absolutely no good.
The Continent is no Huckleberry Finn, but I think it’s an important pop culture read for teen girls. The heroine’s inner journey repudiates the racism portrayed earlier in the book. Please consider reading the book before you make judgments about the content.
Update 11/16/16- For those who are saying the “white savior” trope makes this book racist, I don’t buy it. If Vaela were any color but white, no one would be complaining about her saving the world. I’m all for multicultural heroines, but that includes white heroines as well.
My personal reviewing policy is to give credit where credit is due and to be honest about a book’s weaknesses. Therefore: This book uses the “teen girl saves the world” trope, which is among the most common in YA; that is part of why I took away a half star–it’s unoriginal and unrealistic. It makes the war plot seem overly simplistic. But that’s a relatively small fault for a beautiful character-driven allegory.
The reviewer outcry against this book frustrates me. Many reviewers just seem to be shaming this author because it’s popular and easy to do.