The Selection

The Selection

The Selection was written by Kiera Cass and first published in 2012. It’s a dystopian fantasy story about a teenage girl who is selected as a potential bride for a Prince. The novel forms the first part of a series and is followed by The Elite (2013), The One (2014), The Heir (2015) and The Crown (2016). There are also several short novellas that tie into the series, expanding the back stories of the supporting characters.

Like all girls aged between 16 and 21, America Singer has just been invited to take part in a lottery. Prince Maxom has just come of age and the kingdom is holding a contest to decide who his bride should be. The lottery whittles the applicants to a mere thirty-five, all of whom will have the honour of living at the palace while Maxom chooses between them. Most girls would jump at the chance, but America’s heart is elsewhere.

America is eager to marry her childhood sweetheart, Aspen, however the two of them were born into different castes. America is a Five – an artisan – while Aspen is only a Six and therefore can only aspire be a servant. While the divide doesn’t bother America, it weighs heavily on Aspen who can’t stand being unable to provide for his love. He breaks up with her, crushing her hopes and dreams for the future. With nothing left to weigh her down, America listens to her mother’s advice and reluctantly enters the contest.

No one is more surprised than her when she is chosen as one of the thirty-five. America is shocked to find herself whisked to the world of the Ones, surrounded by decadence and beautiful nobility. She also quickly discovers that Maxom is a fundamentally kind person, despite his sheltered upbringing. However when Maxom seems to take a liking to America, the rest of the Selected grow jealous. America is now far from home and surrounded by people who would like to see her fail…

I must admit that I picked up this novel out curiosity, as it isn’t usually the sort of thing I would chose to read. I first heard of it when I posted my review Red Queen and was surprised by just how polarised people’s opinions of it seemed to be. Seriously, some people told me it was the best thing that they’d ever read while others seem to just loathe it. I just had to try it for myself and it turns out, I’m a bit on the fence. While there were aspects of the story that I thought were fantastic, some parts made me just want to hit my head against the wall.

Firstly, the concept is just wonderfully original. While it does share some similarities with dystopian novels like The Hunger Games, it takes a far lighter tone. The Selection is very easy to read and the society that it portrays is undesirable but nowhere near as horrifying as the extreme poverty of District 12.

Just take the Lottery for example. In The Hunger Games, the Reaping is terrifying. It picks twenty-four teenagers at random and throws them into an arena where all but one will die. The Lottery, however, is nothing like this. For a start, it’s not mandatory. Girls are free to ignore their letter if they’re not interested. The girls who do compete aren’t in any danger. In fact, they benefit as any one disqualified automatically raises to be a Three (if they are beneath this level of society), as the nobility recognise that they might find it difficult to return to the working classes after their stay at the palace. Pretty cushy, huh? This novel is definitely more The Bachelor than Battle Royale.

Yet the world building leaves a lot to be desired. The history of World War III is glossed over (the novel even states that there are no history books detailing what happened during this period) and the rebels from the North and the South don’t have any discernible motives. Not even the nobility have figured out what the rebels want and they don’t seem to be interested in negotiating with them, despite the fact that the Southern rebels regularly break into the castle and murder people. This was a difficult pill to swallow. It wasn’t even clear who these rebels are as America never encountered them. Whenever there was an attack, she was whisked away into hiding and so never saw any danger. For a while I was convinced that the attacks were staged but that didn’t seem to be the case. They were just portrayed as mild and unavoidable inconveniences, which did sit quite right with me.

The plotting also felt a little insubstantial. I loved the scenes that showed the gradual development of America and Maxom’s friendship. These were very subtle and allowed for a lot of nice character moments between the two. However, everything else seemed a bit washed out. There is next to no drama between the Selected. This is a group of teenage girls who are all desperate to become the future Queen. I would have expected them to at least try to hobble each other any chance they got but the worst that happened was that one girl tore America’s dress. Even the arguments between America and Maxom seemed shallow as, no matter what America says to him, you never get the sense that he would ever disqualify her.

Yet the worst thing for me was the love triangle. I know this is something that divides readers – some people love them, some people hate them – and to the novel’s credit, this doesn’t really happen until right near the end of the story. Up until this point, I was actually quite happy that this cliché was absent. It felt more like America was slowly getting over a heartbreak and would find her happiness with Maxom. However, in the story’s final act, Aspen returns.

I really hate Aspen. At the start of the story, I hated his obsession with being the provider – his refusal to allow America to help him with money even though she was better off than he was. I hated the way that he shattered her heart too, letting her believe in the possibility of marriage and then dumping her without warning or discussion. But then he had the audacity to waltz back into her life and expect to pick up where he left off? To declare that he would continue pursuing her, knowing that it would result in both of their executions if caught? No Aspen, you are a horrible human being. Just leave her alone.

To make matters even worse, America is happy about this. Up until Aspen’s return, I really rooted for her. She seemed a down to earth and generally decent person. She’d had a horrible experience with her first love and was slowly beginning to get over him and find happiness with another. She was strong willed, opinionated and quick to stick up for those less fortunate than her. And then she turned into Bella Swan – the damsel who’s unable to pick between the two heartthrobs who are relentlessly pursuing her. I hope she finally comes to her senses, tells Aspen to take a hike and sticks with Maxom.

When it comes to the supporting cast, The Selection is also distinctly lacking. The only other one of the Selected that has any personality is Marlee, America’s bubbly friend. They’re entirely 2-dimensional and all blend into one endless mass. The only decent character in the lot of them is Maxom. He’s interestingly complex and the decisions that he makes – choosing between love and what is best for his kingdom – all seem perfectly understandable for someone in his position. He’s the character that I’m most interested to see develop in the next instalment.

So, to conclude, The Selection had some problems but was still and interesting read. While its world building wasn’t great and it contained some very bland secondary characters, it was a unique idea and I think its non-violent dystopia will certainly appeal to people who are sick of dark and gritty YA novels. I will definitely take a look at its sequel in a future review.

The Selection can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book from 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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