First of all, I had never read a book by Ally Condie before, although I had certainly heard of her, and I knew her books. But they came out at a time that I was a little worn out with dystopian books, so I just hadn't gotten around to reading them yet. Even though I hadn't read the Matched series, I still knew I should grab the chance when Penguin offered me an Advanced Reader's Copy of Atlantia. I had been seeing advance publicity, and I was excited to read something so popular before it came out.
I was sucked into the world of Atlantia right away, and barely came up to breathe. Rio and her twin sister Bay have been raised by their mother, Oceana, Below, in Atlantia. Below is the privileged place to live - when it was created deep under the ocean, families Above sent one member down to survive. The rest of the family remained Above, exposed to terrible pollution. The people Above provide all the food; the people Below provide all the ore out of their underwater mines.
The balance has been kept between Above and Below. One child in each family must stay Below; all those who choose the Above select a life of sacrifice. They also have no contact with the Below. As soon as they make their choice, they are whisked away, without even a chance to say goodbye to their family Below. Rio has always dreamt of going Above. For her, the life of sacrifice and lack of contact are a trade-off for the experiences of air and land. And she has always known that her sister Bay will stay Below with their mother.
But not long before the ceremony where Bay and Rio will announce their choice, their mother dies. In an odd turn of events, she died on her sister Maire's doorstep, and there is no real reason Oceana should have died. Oceana had very little contact with her sister, Maire, so it is especially odd that she died there, as if she was going to tell Maire something. Maire is a siren, and sirens are treated very carefully in Atlantia. They are believed to be a miracle, but their voices are so commanding and seductive. Like the sirens of mythology, people must beware of them. The sirens must report to the Council as children, and are used for the Council's work. Because of their seductive singing, the Minister must prove themselves strong enough to resist the sirens and their call. Maire has always been stronger than the other sirens, and is more of a wild card. There are fewer and fewer sirens in Atlantia. And Rio holds a secret that only two other people know - that she is a siren too.
The twists start coming early on in this novel. Within the first chapter, everything Rio has ever known or believed about her twin, Bay, is challenged and turned upside down. While Rio is reeling from this stunning knowledge, the only family she has left is Maire. Knowing that Maire is a powerful siren, and knowing that Oceana never told Maire about Rio's power, Rio is faced with another decision - can she trust Maire with her secret?
I couldn't stop reading this novel. I read it on the Kindle app, and found it much easier to lose track of how much I've read when there aren't any page numbers. Condie's writing was magical too. It sets a tone from the first page. You are with Rio as she discovers the true Atlantia. She begins to see Atlantia with clear eyes, but they are also eyes clouded with the pain of losing her mother, confusion around her sister and Bay's secrets, and full of the struggle to be herself, even though she must hide her voice.
There is so much to talk about in this book. I found Condie's world-building fascinating. Below was created with so many details that are tiny in themselves, but add up to a complete world. For instance, there are mines in the water surrounding Atlantia, to keep people from trying to escape from the Below. Atlantia itself was built sort of in the shape of an octopus, with the temple in the middle, and tentacles cascading outwards. I don't want to talk about anything that might be a spoiler, so I won't say more about Atlantia. But one thing I thought was important was the humanity of everyone we encounter in Atlantia. No one (not even the sirens) has fish gills to breathe, or a mermaid tail. They breathe air pumped into Atlantia, and experience life in much the same way the rest of us do. If Atlantia wasn't underwater, it might seem a little like an indoor mall. The evil in this book comes from other humans, not from creatures of the deep.
And there are powerful themes woven throughout this book - family, especially (and obviously) the way sisters interact, truth, power, and control. The themes are developed delicately, and you truly experience everything through Rio's eyes as she struggles with who she must become. I really loved this book, and I encourage you all to read it.
If you'd like to read it for yourself, I have an amazing opportunity to win a copy signed by Ally Condie herself! Penguin Teen has ever so graciously allowed me to give away a copy. I can't wait to see who wins! Use the Rafflecopter link here to enter and good luck! The giveaway ends on November 14th, and I will notify the winner by email.
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Atlantia. Ally Condie. Penguin, 2014.
sent by the publisher for review