I so wanted to love The List but what starts off as an intriguing premise, falls short when it becomes predictable.
In Ark you can only speak from The List: five hundred words which are pre-selected and handed out in school. All other words are forbidden, with the most extreme punishment of banishment. It is the Wordsmith’s duty to record the words, distribute them, and collect ‘lost’ words. Letta has been training to be a Wordsmith since some of her earliest memories and her dream finally becomes true, when her Master mysteriously dies. But this is just the beginning of her questions, and his ‘death’ sets her on a path that will rock not only the foundation of her world views, but also the entire city of Ark.
So the premise of only five hundred words in the society was the main reason I decided to pick this book up (the book had more variety than that). That and I cannot say no to dystopias. It’s an actual problem. What I ended up reading was an incredibly vivid world, better than most YA fiction I have been reading lately, and an interesting nugget of thought about language in general. Each chapter is introduced with a word and a definition. Often this definition is simple and incomplete. It merely highlights the adaptability of language and the way the very definitions of words change. We, as language users, have the power to change the very fabric of how we shape our existence. And that, to me, is just so incredibly unique and terrifying.
This very thought experiment kept me hanging on, until the very end of the book. As a former English lit major, the idea of limiting our capability for expression offends my very senses. I have been in the trenches to defend culture since I realized I had a voice. Language is so important to shaping our understanding of the world. And to limit it to only 500 words reminded me so much of Newspeak and 1984. Additionally, I enjoyed the history of the list plot line and the rhetoric of its leaders.
This world building that results is a mixture of 1984 and The Giver. Except without the novelty. What held me back from enjoying this book, despite its premise, was the predictability. It was pretty clear from the start that this Ark would be quite similar to the biblical tale of Noah’s Ark. And I could have overlooked that, but the entire plot is similarly predictable, like something you’ve seen before and cannot place. You remember where it’s going, but not where you saw it. That’s what I experienced here. It was as if I saw a collage of snapshots of all the major dystopias I have recently read and what happened was this seemingly familiar plot arc.
Combined with this déjà vu feeling was the lack of personality in the characters. Don’t get me wrong, Letta is extremely compelling. But she is, like so many heroines within these dystopias; headstrong, willing to fight the system for good, and honorably motivated. Besides her quest, and the various pieces of the puzzle that the side characters and her own history played, there was a lack of personality within her.
This is a middle of the road read for me. It had the potential to be so much better and I am actually more interested in what happens after this book. In this sequel I would hope to see more character development and originality in plot to deliver on these wonderful promises and vivid world.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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