Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Culling (The Torch Keeper, #1) by Steven dos Santos

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This review was written by: B
Received: Library
Publication Date of Book: March 2013
Pages: 421 (paperback)
Stars: 5/5

The salt air stings my eyes.  "Not every story has a happy ending, but that doesn't mean it's not worth telling."  I turn away.  Concentrating on the brightest star I can find, I hope he won't notice I'm doing everything possible not to give in to the ache I feel for my brother.
"I wonder what it could be like, Lucian, to love someone so totally, so....you know, so powerfully, that even the stars can't contain themselves from proclaiming that love for everyone to see," he says softly.  "It must be the grandest feeling in the world."-Digory
-The Culling by Steven dos Santos

Lucian "Lucky" Spark has lost almost everything and everyone he cares about...except for his younger brother, Cole.  His parents tragically passed away at a young age, just like many others, and the only motherly figure he has is a middle-aged neighbor who's beginning to fall ill.  Lucky will do anything to protect the two people he cherishes most in his life, no matter what.

In this dystopian world, Recruitment Day is an annual event that looms like a heavy cloud over the heads of sixteen year olds across the board.  On this day, five Recruits are chosen to compete for the chance to join the Imposer task force, a special and ruthless military branch.  These poor souls are forced to participate in gruesome training procedures and final trials to produce one reigning champion.  When a Recruit is chosen, they must pick two "Incentives."  Incentives are people whom each of the five extremely cherish or love, usually family members, who are to be killed.  After training, the assessment tests are dealt with in a terrible way.  If you come in last, you must choose an Incentive to die.  When both of them have been compromised, you are killed as well.  This continues on until one final Recruit is left standing.

Lucky cannot afford to be named a Recruit, especially when it means the final end for Cole.  However, with the confidence that he won't be chosen, his name just happens to be called...and the horrors begin.  The unexpected shock shakes Lucky to his very core.  One wrong step and Cole is done for.  He has no friends to use as Incentives.  He knows that the odds of him becoming an Imposer are practically slim to nothing, but he's not willing to give up.  He won't stop until he knows for sure that Cole is safe, even if it means letting his fellow competitors lose their Incentives in the process.

He has no attachment to the other four Recruits so damage should be minimal to his emotions when he is forced to sacrifice others for his own.  That all changes, however, when he meets Digory.  Digory is a Recruit whom Lucky spends time with over and over again, and the more they interact, the deeper their relationship grows.  Lucky can't afford this right now, but he can't help himself from feeling attraction towards his peer.  Any type of affection, endearment, or love is dangerous and can have deadly consequences...and Lucky is just on the verge of finding out how horrible they really are...

My review:
I loved this book to death for sooooooooooo many reasons.  One month later, the story is still so vivid in my mind that I feel like I'm avidly rereading it over and over again just by writing my review on it.  To begin with, I suppose that I should address the fact of how it does have similarities to the Hunger Games.  No, I have not read the books up to this current point (yet), but from the movies, I would say that they do have come central elements in common.  Mainly, they both involve teenagers fighting for their lives.  The government itself forces them to do this and only one of the contestants is supposed to be left standing by the end of it all.  Otherwise, I believe that this is where the connections end.  Steven dos Santos puts his own twist to his own story.  I feel that by no means should it be judged by the Hunger Games, but if you enjoyed that trilogy, this could be a perfect read for you!

Next, the writing style was absolutely phenomenal in The Culling.  When I began this story, I wasn't sure how I would take to this dystopian world or to any of the characters in it for that matter, but I absolutely fell in love with it.  The relationship between Lucky and Cole was so tangible.  While Cole was only four years old, I could easily see the relationship that was going on between them and how much they truly loved each other.  The only way to describe it was that it was portrayed with expertise and the best of perfection.  I felt like they were real people, actual brothers that I was jealous of for their endearment towards one another.  There was no doubt in my mind that they were just words on a page, but the two still felt real.  I couldn't help but cheer for them, it was impossible not to.  Lucky showed so much emotion towards Cole and it was so undeniably believable.

Each of the characters were so distinct when reading about them.  When they were first introduced, I absolutely did not think that I would ever get attached, I could only cheer for one winner after all, but this was not how it turned out in the least.  In the beginning, I thought I had them all figured out, but Steven added more and more depth to them as the story progressed, and this was something that I never anticipated.  I had no idea that I could care for any of the four the way that I did.  Even when I hated them one moment, I was completely saddened for them the next and wanted them each to have their own happy endings.  Alas, in this dystopian world, those are hard to come by.  Each Recruit had a backstory worth exploring, along with a rich and compelling history, and I promise that about every last one of them.

To be clear, I'm not the type of girl who gets emotionally distraught when reading a book and cries over it.  I just haven't...until I met this book.  Actually, I didn't cry, but I felt close to doing so time and time again.  All that happened to Lucky and what he was forced to go through, whether it was betrayal, loss, or injury (both physically and emotionally) I felt the pain of it all, too.  I just can't praise this book enough.

And now we get down to the best aspect of The Culling, the fact that the male protagonist was gay.  Maybe I've just been living under a rock (which I'm pretty sure I haven't), but I've yet to see a dystopian book with this type of individual as the main character.  I adored it so much, and the best part of it was that this character trait was not a big deal.  It simply was just another part of Lucky.  He was who he was, no questions asked, or ridicule dumped on him.  He and Digory were a great match, and their relationship was dealt with well.  In fact, at one point in the book, someone mentioned that a man's husband was waiting for him.  It was so casual and a slight detail in the conversation, like you would talk about the weather.  Being gay was not ostracized or condemned.  It was wonderfully ordinary.  Thank you Steven dos Santos!  Both Lucky's former boyfriend and current love interest were both extremely interesting to read and learn more about.  (The character Cassius was so good at being bad that it was ridiculously awesome.  Did that even make sense?)

Lastly, I believe that I should address the violence that is a prominent chunk of this novel.  When reading other reviews from various places, I have seen this brought up several times.  I will say that there are some disturbing scenes and acts of horror bestowed upon individuals, and this is probably not for the weak at heart.  Yet, this is still a young adult novel and is treated as such.  So, it is still okay to read and I recommend it to everyone!  You might just want to wait to read it if you are not an older teen, but everyone is at different reading levels and have varying preferences as to what they enjoy, so it is really at your discretion.

I'll leave by saying that I'm so proud of this novel and its author for all that it stands for.  I couldn't have been happier with it.  It just blew my mind, and I have made it my life's mission to obtain the next book in record time.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go reread this book now…I'm slightly obsessed!

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