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Spark: A Good Surprise

20 Nov

321988First disclaimer. If you haven’t read Evan Angler’s third novel, Storm, don’t read this review of Spark. Since the Swipe books build upon one another, a few spoilers about the previous book are unavoidable.

Second disclaimer. I know that young adult dystopian fiction is different from what I usually write about. It’s my secret vice, except that it isn’t secret, and it’s not exactly a vice. I take C. S. Lewis as my authority on this one. If he could champion the sci-fi novel Voyage to Arcturus for its imaginative vision, than I can do the same with the Swipe series. Complaints may be directed to the Department of Defiance.

Now for the book.

I expected a lot out of Spark. I thought I’d find out Lily’s real plans. And learn how she contrived to get Logan out of Acheron. And figure out why Peck left the Global Union. Spark does eventually reveal why Peck left the Global Union. Lily does not appear in the book, however, and Logan remains in prison for the duration.

Yet I was not disappointed. Spark is perhaps the most ambitious book in the Swipe series to date. Introducing an artificial intelligence as one of the characters in the story was a risk. So was inserting computer code into the narrative. So was allowing the AI character to speak in quotes bracketed with computer arrows. I could go on. Young adult fiction is taking more risks in regards to narrative style, but typical YA books, like most adult books, don’t venture there. It isn’t safe. When risks don’t pay off, they tend to backfire.

Fortunately, Angler’s risks pay off, giving authenticity to this technology-focused story. Ali, a nine-year-old beggar in the Middle Eastern Dark Lands, has no interest in the Global Union, except when it comes to begging trinkets from GU travellers. Yet the Global Union becomes intensely interested in Ali, who seems to have an intuitive connection with advanced pre-Unity technology. Ali soon finds herself unsure of who to trust. She is torn between the real and virtual worlds, between the man who shelters her and the artificial intelligence that warns of coming danger. Confused and lonely, Ali falls victim to doubt. How can she prevent the Global Union from manipulating her when she cannot tell friend from foe?

In some ways this story is like a reverse of Storm—a comparison Logan Langly himself makes while talking with Ali in virtual space. Cylis used Logan’s bravery and trust in his sister to entrap him. Ali is manipulated through her timidity and doubt of those around her. Ali’s failures, like Logan’s, force her to pay a high price. Yet Cylis’s maneuvering against Ali miscarries in a way he never expected. Logan, still physically imprisoned, finds hope through Ali’s experience. If Ali’s mistakes could lead to victory against Cylis, then maybe even Logan’s can somehow be redeemed.

One of my major concerns about the last two books, Sneak and Storm, was related to the number of characters. Not only could the large number of viewpoint characters could be difficult to keep track of, but sometimes there seemed to be no viewpoint character at all—particularly in scenes involving the Dust. Spark seems to have reversed the trend, having only three viewpoint characters. Ali is the main viewpoint character, and Daniel Peck’s viewpoint is used a few times throughout the book. Surprisingly, the other viewpoint character is not Logan Langly. It is Chancellor Cylis. Spark tells the story of how Cylis got into power, and these extensive flashbacks play a critical role in the plot of the book. Sometimes flashbacks seem to drag a story down. These add unexpected energy. Storm showed us Cylis’s public face. Spark shows us who he truly is.

All said, Spark may be the strongest Swipe book so far, tackling some very difficult themes with imagination and audacity. If Storm depressed you, don’t swear off the series. Spark is definitely worth the read.

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