BOOKMONGER: Latest dystopian YA novel fast paced, dark


Arwen Elys Dayton

“Seeker” has been out since February, so I’m late to the party with this YA science fiction/coming of age tale.

The first installment in a projected trilogy, “Seeker” has been optioned for film and translated into 13 languages, so the corporate storytellers have confidence in this book, which seems to spring from the same upwelling of 21st century angst that spawned “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent.”

A female teen as the strong central character? Check. A dystopian world in which adult authority is corrupt? Check. The necessity of learning how to wield weapons? Check.

Willamette Valley author Arwen Elys Dayton covers the bases with charismatic lead players, exotic settings, and a vividly imagined, mid-21st century world filled with zeppelin strongholds, drug tourism and shape-shifting weapons.

The weapons are fantastic. With the flick of the wrist, whipswords fluidly transform into a variety of lethal shapes. Disruptors create permanent electrical havoc in the brain. And stone daggers called athames are connected with particular clans and invested with mysterious powers.

Access to the athames is one of the goals that teenagers Quin, Shinobu, and John have been training for. The opportunity to wield the athame is accorded exclusively to “Seekers.” But this status must be earned.

Quin’s father and Shinobu’s dad are Seekers, and they subject the trio of apprentices to a harsh physical and mental regimen to ensure that they, too, can endure the rigorous demands of that calling. But in the opening chapter, when the teens are put to the test, only Quin and Shinobu succeed and are allowed to take the oath.

This complicates the secret romance that had been blossoming between Quin and John, but Quin feels compelled to move on – until she discovers that what she thought was her destiny is not at all what it was cracked up to be. Now she has to summon up the courage to reject her powerful father’s commands.

Dayton has created three fierce young leads, and switches perspectives throughout the story so that we can see how increasingly disparate – and desperate – their trajectories are. But we aren’t the only ones observing their plight. So, too, are the Dreads – marvelous characters that are charged with impassive observing – except when they decide to act.

From the tumble-down castles of Scotland, to the mean streets (and skies) of London, to the roiling streets (and waters) of Hong Kong, Quin, John, and Shinobu – formerly close companions – now find themselves at dangerous odds with one another, as everything they thought they could count on disintegrates.

This is a fast-moving tale, with harrowing scenes of violence and drug addiction. The shock and confusion experienced by the characters will be palpable to the reader, too.

So I am led to this observation. The stories we are serving up to this generation of young people are undeniably stimulating. But am I the only one who is alarmed by the unmitigated bleakness? Are we doing our youngsters a disservice? Is it too much to ask for insights that are uplifting?

The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at bkmonger@nwlink.com