Archipelago

Archipelago

Archipelago is the debut novel of Mati Raine and was first published in 2013. It is a science fiction story that focuses on a super-powered teenage girl as she discovers that she is not the only mutant in the world. The novel is the first part of a series titled The Lantern Project and its sequel is planned for release later this year.

Lilly Douglas has been kept hidden ever since her wings first started to grow. Knowing that some people would treat her cruelly, her parents do their best to keep her powers a secret – home schooling her and only allowing her outside when there are no people around. Although she feels constrained and lonely, Lilly leads a relatively happy existence. However, it all goes wrong when she is discovered by Dr. Kibbsty.

When Dr. Kibbsty attacks her in her home and murders her parents, Lilly is forced to flee. For the first time in her life, she is alone and is soon targeted by a group of teenagers with frightening elemental powers. Her rescue comes at the hands of Jake – a boy with the power to control water – who tells her that they are same. They are both Strands, mutants with incredible powers linked to the number of lilac streaks in their hair, and they are far from unique.

Jake takes Lilly to the Charity Academy, a hidden school where Strands are able to learn about their powers in peace. Although Lilly quickly makes friends and begins to feel happy at her new home, it does not last for long. Dr. Kibbsty runs a rival school called the Firestone Institute and he has dispatched double agents into the Charity Academy. Their mission: to capture Lilly so that their twisted benefactor can use her to further his experiments…

I mentioned in my review of Halfway Heroes that I have a bit of a weakness for superhero stories. Because of this, I was pretty excited about reading this novel. Its synopsis made me think of the X-men and there was no part of that which didn’t appeal to me. However, on reading the book, it was a little too close the X-men for comfort. Although there were two schools in Archipelago instead of one, it still played on the idea of there being mutants living among us in secret and places that they could go to learn to control their powers in peace. Some of the characters in the story even had powers that seemed very familiar (the least subtle was a speedster named Mercury) which left me thinking that perhaps Raine took a little too much from her obvious inspiration.

Despite this, I found the first half of the novel to be pretty intriguing. Although the prose was occasionally clumsy and did contain the odd spelling or grammatical error, it was still immersive and I found myself quickly drawn into Lilly’s world. Although she could occasionally be a little whiny, Lilly was easy to sympathise with. She was a completely sheltered teenager – one who had never been able to interact with anyone other than her own parents – and suddenly she was thrust into this overwhelming world that she never knew existed. The first half of the novel mainly focused on Lilly’s experiences as she finally found a place where she fit in. This part ended with a fast paced fight sequence which would have formed a satisfying ending to the novel. It was unfortunate that the novel did not end here.

Over the second half of the story, it began to rapidly lose direction. The cast inflated to the point where it became virtually impossible to remember the name (and often nickname) and powers of every single mutant. This also includes the Firestone students. Although these teens were the villains of the first part of the story, Raine attempts to make them sympathetic in the second half by showing the world from their perspective. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. When the focus is on a Firestone student (usually Cory), they show emotional conflict. It’s revealed that a lot of them don’t like the way that they’re treated. However, this just contradicts how they appear from everyone else’s perspective. When the narrative eye isn’t upon them, they are malicious, violent and merciless, which makes almost all of them entirely unlikable. The climax of this second part is also a lot less satisfying than the first as it culminates in a very abrupt fight sequence, in which it is very unclear who the reader is supposed to be rooting for and who ultimately survives the fray.

The amount of violence in the novel also did not sit well with me. Although this is by no means the nastiest young adult novel that I’ve read, almost every chapter had Lilly coming to some kind of harm (sometimes even at the hands of her supposed friends at the Charity Academy). She was frozen, stabbed, burned, electrocuted and had her bones broken multiple times. For me, this made the novel incredibly hard to read. I’m not a fan of torture, particularly against a character who was so sweet and naïve, and really did not think that a lot of it was necessary in this novel. It just seemed to be being nasty for the sake of being nasty.

Although the cast of this story was enormous, there were one or two characters that did stand out among the crowd. Unfortunately, the second half of the novel made me loathe most of them. In the first half of the story, Lily forms a close circle of friends. This consists of Jake and a couple of girls in her grade. In the first half of the story, these teens are very sympathetic towards Lilly and really support her as she settles into life at the Charity Academy. However, they underwent complete character transplants between the first and second parts.

Jake ended the first part as a love interest that cared for Lilly greatly but in the second part immediately becomes a jerk. He just seems to treat Lilly as unpleasantly as possible, aware that he is hurting her but rationalising that it’s for the best because he’s decided (off page) that they do not make a good couple. He is supported in this douchebaggery by Lilly’s roommates, both of whom turn out to be generally selfish and uncaring. This sudden 180° shift in their personalities was rather unsettling and caused me to lose any sympathy I had for them. In fact, by the end of the story the only characters I actually liked were Trish and Wyvr. Out of a cast of dozens, that is a little disappointing.

However, the largest disappointment in the story for me was Dr. Kibbsty. As the novel progressed, I found it harder and harder to follow his master plan. Kibbsty had no powers, yet somehow he maintained control over all of the Firestone delinquents. While I can understand that some of the teens were as twisted as he was, most weren’t. They also possessed enough power to kill Kibbsty with a look. Because of this, I was baffled by why they would stand for his mistreatment of this. Added to this was the fact that Kibbsty was possibly the worst scientist ever as he would simply leave his experiments to die out of spite and was frequently outwitted by teenagers. Maybe with a stronger antagonist this story could have been salvaged but Kibbsty was just too weak and inconsistent for me to take seriously.

Anyhow, I guess I’ll end my review here. Although Archipelago drew me in with its opening act, I found that I quickly began to lose interest around the halfway mark. The cast was far too large and really bogged down the story, while the plot itself seemed to lose cohesion and became an opera of human misery and teenage angst. I am mildly curious to see where this story will go next, as the climax was pretty final for some important characters, but I’m wary that unless the cast is reduced it will fall prey to the same pacing issues that this novel had.

Archipelago can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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