(Bowe Bellanger #1)
by David J. Normoyle
by David J. Normoyle
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publication: April 9, 2013 by Fiction Addiction
Only the strongest, smartest and most ruthless will survive.
Every six years, the world draws nearer to the sun. In Arcandis, those who want to live must claim the limited places in the Refuge, a series of underground caverns cooled by the sea.
The teenage boys of noble birth are sent out into the city to demonstrate their wits and strength. Some prove themselves in combat, others display their empire building skills, still others attempt to kill off their rivals. Out of over a hundred, only six will be selected by the leaders of the great families and allowed a place in the Refuge. The rest will perish, one way or another.
Not only is thirteen-year-old Bowe younger and weaker than most of the other boys, he has no family to support him. He is expected to die on the very first day of the narrowing path. Instead he begins a journey no one could have anticipated
◆ A copy was provided by Fiction Addiction for review ◆
Bowe is a likable character. He's intelligent and loyal to a fault. Even if it means putting his life at risk, Bowe will stand up for his friends and his beliefs. In fact, Bowe's naivety is his primary flaw. Maybe he was largely ignored as a child -- the story doesn't delve much into his childhood -- but it takes Bowe a while into the Path before he starts seriously trying to climb the ranks. In the meantime, I had to watch as he learned the brutal reality of the Path the hard way. Though it's glorified as a competition where the best of the noble boys emerge, it's in reality a game where teenage boys fight to the death to gain recognition from the leaders of their families, and Bowe loses good comrades over the course of the competition. It is because of the violence of the boys towards each other that I hesitate to recommend this to middle-grade readers despite Bowe's youth (he's thirteen).
Naivety can be forgiven in a character though, especially one as young and sheltered as Bowe. What really makes it hard to fully sympathize with Bowe is his unfounded prejudice towards the ecsay, the commoners. Though ecsay save him from certain death multiple times, he refuses to recognize them as the intelligent, admirable people that they are. One such example is in the case of the 'love interests'. Bowe is attracted to a smart, capable ecsay (Iyra) but treats her roughly because he thinks it's perverted to like an ecsay. On the other hand, he feels sympathy for the noble girl Zofila, your typical damsel in distress, and treats her kindly, though he has no romantic interest in her. I can only hope that he learns to accept the ecsay in the later books because his fate seems to be inextricably entwined with theirs.
Writing-wise, the story is shaky. The story jumps straight into the plot without building the context. As it is, I had to figure out the terminology and world on my own as the story progressed. Even then, I wish that the world had been better developed. I know that there are other countries in the world, but their relationship with Bowe's country remains unclear. I would also like to know more about the social hierarchy and culture. It would have been especially useful if the former had been developed early on, as it helps explain Bowe's predjudice towards the ecsay. While I know that his environment taught him these beliefs, it still comes as a surprise when a typically benevolent boy talks down to people because of their class. Hopefully, future installments will reveal more about the world Bowe lives in.
What keeps the story together is how the plot never fails to keep moving forward. Though the beginning is hard to follow, once I got into the story it captivated me from start to finish. It does seem as though Bowe is blessed with good fortune because he gets out of some pretty sticky situations thanks to his allies. Nevertheless, he has the makings of a strong leader emerging within him, and he has a group of unique, compelling comrades supporting him. I look forward to reading the next installment and seeing where he goes from here on out.