Review: Dove Arising, by Karen Bao

March 30, 2015 § Leave a comment

Dove Arising, by Karen BaoDove Arising, by Karen Bao, is set on a lunar colony: one of six bases established by the world’s scientific community when they and their families fled to the moon to escape the growing danger of war and pollution on Earth.  As you might expect, the colony is a dystopia: the citizens’ life is riddled with restrictions, and they live in fear of the militia, whom they call the Beaters, and under threat of attack from Earth’s remaining superpowers.  Fifteen-year-0ld Phaet Theta is at the top of her class and has big, peaceful plans for her future – until her mother is suddenly taken ill and quarantined, and Phaet and her younger siblings are in danger of having to move to the Shelter.  In desperation, Phaet decides to begin her required time in the militia two years early, hoping to place high in the training evaluations and earn the money to pay her mother’s hospital bills and support her siblings.  She is soon caught up in fierce, even deadly competition with dozens of older and more capable trainees.  Worse, she soon learns that her mother’s quarantine is not what it seemed, and she and her family are in danger.

I’m not a sci-fi fan, usually.  I loved my biology courses, but don’t care much for books with lots of scientific detail.  I don’t usually prefer war stories, and I’ve read my fill of warrior-princess books.  I thought the Hunger Games trilogy was very well done, but have never read another dystopian YA novel that could really interest me.

You might wonder why I picked up Dove Arising in the first place.  I’ve been wondering that, too, since about page 100.  I felt obligated to finish it, however, since up to that point it was completely “clean,” and I clung to my shrinking hope that it would get better.

I don’t regret reading it, exactly.  Bao builds a fascinating world: she gives the lunar bases enough detail and history to make them real, without overwhelming the reader.  Even though I felt she included just a little too much scientific terminology for my taste, I found the base and its technology interesting, and I was able to see it all clearly.

Unfortunately, the writing quality in general is poor.  The characters’ motivations and conversations often fail to make sense.  Frequently a character will change his mind in an instant, and without sufficient explanation.  Phaet is selectively mute, supposedly because of a traumatic incident linked to her father’s death, but the full reason is never given.  The pacing of the story seemed odd, until I realized that the entire book was meant to set up for a sequel – a sequel I will not be reading.

The novel as a whole reads like the Twitter spoof by Dana Schwartz, Dystopian YA Novel (which I definitely recommend reading; if you’ve read even a couple of novels in the genre you’ll see it’s spot on!)  It includes all the cliches of the genre, even the requisite love triangle.  I saw the triangle coming from fifty pages away and was fighting it with all of my willpower.  It wasn’t enough.  I lost that fight.

I was disappointed by Dove Arising.  I don’t know why, since the very description on its jacket should have warned me against it.  I suppose a true fan of YA dystopian novels might enjoy it; if you are one of those fans, you could do worse than to try Dove Arising, since aside from some violence and a tiny bit of language at the very end, it’s completely clean.

Are you a fan of sci-fi and/or dystopian novels?  If so, which are your favorites? 


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