My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I enjoyed this story about a post-apocalyptic society where words are considered dangerous, and people are forced to use only The List, a small selection of words approved by the ruler of their small surviving community. Only the Wordsmith is allowed to know and use words outside of the List.
The main character, Letta, is apprenticed to the Wordsmith, and her love for the beauty of language is a major theme throughout the book. Letta uncovers a plot to rid the entire community of ALL their words, and she is caught in the midst of a desperate rebellion, full of intrigue and adventure. But is Letta willing to risk everything, just to save a few words?
I really loved Letta, because she’s a wonderfully complex character, with contradicting traits that make her interesting. She struggles to overcome her fear, but feels like a failure, until she is inspired to protect those she loves and launches out to face the very thing that frightens her most. I loved following her internal struggle, and watching her question her beliefs and find a way to remake her view of the world.
Another great theme that unfolds through the story is the way that Letta connects to the people around her. She’s recklessly generous in a harsh world, and her compassion for others gets her into trouble. There are such extremes of human nature portrayed through many of the side characters: people who will be cruel just because they can, and people who will be kind just because they can, expecting nothing in return.
Letta meets such different people on both sides, and it begins to shape her ideas about the world her community is creating, after the natural disaster that plunged most of the planet into the sea. If all the future of humanity depends on one little group of people, what kind of humanity do you want to see flourish? Letta has to answer what kind of person she wants to be, and who she will choose to be her true friends.
Most of the side characters are rather one-dimensional, and just sort of background filler; but the most important side characters are full of life and diversity. I wouldn’t say they are “complex”, but they didn’t bore me either.
The best part was seeing Letta react to them. Letta’s old schoolteacher who still feels concerned for the well-being of her old pupils, the mysterious renegade boy who stumbles into Letta’s life with a bang, the wild-eyed mother who has lost her child, the rebel musician who plays sad music to express her grief; these characters brought Letta’s community to life, and each of them highlighted another aspect of Letta’s personality.
I did NOT like that there are passages set aside in italics at the end of some chapters with the internal thoughts of the villain, showing his motivations and a little backstory. I didn’t think the story needed it. I was fine seeing things from just Letta’s perspective. Multiple POVs is one of my pet peeves though, so it might not bother anyone else.
The world-building, other than the List itself, is just your basic town of post-apocalyptic survivors sometimes squabbling over water, food, and shelter. I did like the parts about the Wordsmith collecting words and recording them. Anything to do with Words or the List was interesting and new, and I liked that the world-building is detailed, if not exactly original.
I enjoyed the plot, but it was fairly predictable. There was only one thing at the end that actually surprised me. There are also some parts of the plot that felt forced or out of place. A couple of awkward scenes didn’t flow very well with the story and felt as though they had been copy-and-pasted into the book to add drama or more romantic interest.
But mostly the action flowed very well from scene to scene, and just when you thought the heroes would start to make some progress toward their goals, they would encounter some huge setback or danger that threw everything into turmoil again.
There is some violence, torture, disease, and blood, and some of that also felt forced, like it was pushed into the story as a scare tactic, to shock the reader. But it also served a purpose in startling the characters into action, so it still works in the story.
The ending was much too quick, with several things left unexplained and characters left out. It needed a lot more denouement, and I was disappointed because it needed some better resolution. If that ending had just pulled everything in for a tight conclusion, I could have ignored some of the other plot problems.
I was very impressed with the writing style. The dialogue is fresh, and the author draws you into Letta’s world by using a lot of body language and colors and smells. (Although sometimes the smells were a little overdone. I don’t need to be told six times that Marlo smells like sage.)
What really made the writing excellent is the obvious love for vivid words. Sometimes the writing forces you to stop and consider one word. Just one. What does it really mean? What do I mean when I use that word? How does using this word change my life? How does it reflect the world around me? Would I give my life for the right to use that word?
Deep thinking going on.
At other times, the author would sneak an important word into a paragraph a couple of pages away from the first use of that word, and make you think about how your perception of that word has changed in the last two pages, because of what Letta is thinking and doing and experiencing. Suddenly the word “Hope” or “Warmth” has another meaning than it did two pages ago. Sneaky writing! I love sneaking writing that makes you think!!!
All in all, a good book with a decent plot, an excellent main character, and excellent writing. If the plot had just been a little more tightly woven, and the side characters a little more spirited, it would have easily been a four-star book for me.
Disclaimer: I received an ecopy of this book from the author/publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review. All the opinions stated here are my own true thoughts and are not influenced by anyone.