Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Review: Perfect Ruin

"Would the people of the ground think Interment is a paradise, or a punishment?"

Perfect Ruin (Internment Chronicles #1)
Lauren DeStefano
356 pages
Summary Link

Rating: 7


I liked Wither, DeStefano's first book, though I didn't love it. I thought her second book was much stronger, but I wasn't invested enough in the characters to finish the trilogy. I wasn't especially excited about this new book, particularly because the blurb feels so generic- girl in dystopic society, tries to live quietly in her planned out life, meets dangerous new boy, predictable drama ensues. I expected a CW teen drama TV show. I've been sick all weekend though, and bored with my other reading options, so I decided to give it a whirl.


It's rare that a blurb makes a story look worse, but this one did. Against all my assumptions, Perfect Ruin is a jewel of a book.

Everything written in the summary is technically correct. Morgan Stockhour is indeed a teenage girl living in the floating sky-city of Internment. Her life there is generally calm and pleasant, with her best friend and her betrothed, but Morgan can't quite let go of thoughts of what must lie on the forbidden ground far below. Then a murder rocks the city, Morgan meets the boy who stands accused, and is drawn further into the secrets of the city.

I was pleasantly surprised when DeStefano avoided the cliches I assumed were coming, particularly the oh-so-obvious love triangle. Instead of taking a bite out of that poisoned apple, she decides to build believable characters with multifaceted relationships. The people don't feel like macguffins there to move the story forward or add romantic drama, they feel like people with histories whose decisions are motivated by their pasts and personalities (you know, like real people). Plus, I felt an inexplicable love for the bizarre-yet-wonderful duo of characters appear in the final quarter.

(I speak, of course, of the Prince and Princess. Maybe it's because I just watched a bunch of The Legend of Korra, but I could not help constantly imagining them as Desna and Eska, despite their objectively being nothing alike. On the other hand, they are both kind of insane, have a weird conversational style, and always hang out together...perhaps a preppy version of them?

You will take me to your rebel machine.

The exceptions to this are an antagonist whose act of villainy happens too abruptly, and a "dystopia" reveal that happened too unexpectedly (before, I would have categorized this as utopic). They could have been worked out better, and frankly, Internment didn't really need to get dystopic. It's already an island you can't leave, and social/religious mores mean you can't even talk about leaving. That's sufficiently negative without sacrificing subtlety and nuance. We didn't need to be beaten over the head with a literal government conspiracy forcing us to agree that one side is The Bad One.

The true strength of Perfect Ruin, though, is in its prose. It reminded me a lot of Lauren Oliver's Delirium, another story carried by the beauty of its writing. Like in Delirium, DeStefano succeeds in making you feel the emotions of the main character. Morgan is haunted by the fear that their world might be too small, that she'll one day go mad like her brother and try to jump. She's worried that it's never going to be enough. DeStefano also deftly interweaves the story with the religious beliefs of Internment's inhabitants, how they pray to the God of the Sky to keep them safe and tell stories about figures like Micah and his Boat of Stars. There are words here that go right into your heart; I kept using the highlight feature on my kindle.

It's altogether possible that it's too similar to Delirium- Morgan talking about the edge and her brother could have been Lena talking about love and her mother- but I didn't mind.  The writing is simple and moving and lovely, and it elevates the whole book above most others in the same genre.

Thus, unexpectedly, I'm now upset that I'll have to wait for the next book in the series. Yet another thing to add to my release date calendar.

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