Wednesday, 17 December 2014

SP Book Review: Meritropolis

2 stars
Verdict: It felt suited to males who like action films.

The year is AE3, 3 years after the Event. Within the walls of Meritropolis, 50,000 inhabitants live in fear, ruled by the brutal System that assigns each citizen a merit score that dictates whether they live or die. Those with the highest scores thrive, while those with the lowest are subject to the most unforgiving punishment--to be thrust outside the city gates, thrown to the terrifying hybrid creatures that exist beyond.

But for one High Score, conforming to the System just isn't an option. Seventeen-year-old Charley has a brother to avenge. And nothing--not even a totalitarian military or dangerous science--is going to stop him.

Where humankind has pushed nature and morals to the extreme, Charley is amongst the chosen few tasked with exploring the boundaries, forcing him to look deep into his very being to discern right from wrong. But as he and his friends learn more about the frightening forces that threaten destruction both without and within the gates, Meritropolis reveals complexities they couldn't possibly have bargained for...

The Rating Breakdown

Enjoyment:  3  I enjoyed it a lot at first, but the plot and concept issues got to me.

Writing Style:  3  A bit ‘tell’ heavy but well structured in most places. 

Plot:  1  Too much crammed in, poor structure, anticlimactic, and underdeveloped.

World & Concepts:  2  Interesting ideas executed poorly. 

Characters:  2  Some good, some forgettable, and too many guards.

Finish:  3  I love the cover, the writing is mostly error free, but it needs a developmental edit.

Strengths: Creativity with animal combinations, a character who takes action.

Weakness: A general feel that world and plot is undeveloped and quite early in draft stages.

I did enjoy this novel...but the further I read, the more frustrated and disappointed I became. This certainly has the potential to be a five star novel based on the concept, but its generally undeveloped plot, world, and characters really brought this down.

I started the novel on a high. I loved the cover and blurb. While the opening ‘told’ me about the world rather than showed it to me, I found it clear and enticing. It hooked me in from the start and I couldn't wait to learn more about this new world.

And there are minimal copy-editing errors, which I’ve recently learned is a luxury in the self-publishing world. It shouldn’t be, but it is, so I respect Ohman for using professionals to produce a good quality product. 

The main character Charley is a doer, not a watcher, which makes for a great over-the-shoulder narration. Occasionally we hop onto other characters’ shoulders. While I enjoyed experiencing multiple POV, I felt like these supporting characters were telling us who they were and telling us about their view of the system; they came across a little one dimensional because I didn't see them do much. Also, females were portrayed in a way which made it clear this novel was written by a man (seductresses and damsels) and I couldn't connect with them. Charley is by far the best character so it was a good thing that he’s the main.

The problems all stem from developmental issues: the world needed developing, the plot needs tightening, certain sections need more tension, and twists need to be more substantial and tightly knit rather than mostly luck. I made notes on around 50 separate issues in total, but I'll just give a few examples.

The biggest issue was that I've finished the book and still can’t picture the city. The early section of the novel introduces the characters and their take on the system, but we never see the dystopian world – we just hear about the system and how it works/doesn’t work. This leads to other problems, because I don't have enough information to properly understand the context of the novel.

For example, the population is being culled to 50,000 but we never see the state of things. If there’s plenty for all to eat and lots of space, then that puts the story in a very different light to if houses are crammed and food is rationed. There is a bit of mention to rations, but if you have more people, you can have more hunters – there’s plenty of food around them – so what are the other real issues of the city? This is just one example of why it would have been good to show more of the world throughout the novel.

Another example is the animals. I loved the animal combinations and got excited at the end of each chapter as there would be a new illustration of a creature soon to be revealed. The illustrations definitely added to the detail of the novel without slowing the pace and I couldn’t wait to see how they would affect the plot.

However, by mid-way through the book, I felt they were unnecessary. They’re a huge part of Charley’s excursions, but apart from being cool, they don’t affect the plot. I would have much rather discovered the inside of Meritropolis rather than what’s outside, because it’s what’s happening within the walls which is the basis of the plot.

Moving along to the dystopian elements, each citizen of Meritropolis is given a score, and if it dis below 50 they are escorted outside the gates. This is another great idea...but again, the details of the scores are kept vague. I still don’t get who decides who has what score. It’s decided based on ‘worth’, but the nuts and bolts of how it works is left a mystery. And why does Charley’s score go up every time he punches a guard? Surely he’s not getting more useful to the system because he’s trying to break it. It would make more sense for it to go down – it all depends on who actually controls it. This isn’t questioned by the characters nor is it explained at any point of the novel. If it became a plot twist within the novel, or even just an unsolved mystery, I would have thought it was a good point. Instead, I feel like this was another concept that needed work.

A lot of the terms are kept vague but are heavily discussed. The system is discussed in great detail from a philosophical point of view, but no one questions who put it in place and who controls it. The Event is talked about so much, yet we never find out what this Event is.

Another huge problem was that there were MULTIPLE anticlimaxes. The word ‘anticlimactic’ is used to described one section, and another is described as ‘Surprisingly, the night passed uneventfully’. Ohman does a good job of throwing in twists, challenges, and threatening situations but the threats are empty, consequences are undone, and the challenges are actually walks in the park. One section in particular really got to me, and that was when the guard offered to knock himself out because he didn’t agree with what the guards were doing. Lucky coincidences that help the main character succeed are nearly always disappointing to read.

It's things like anticlimaxes which made me as a reader feel too much author presence. I felt like Ohman needed to make certain things happen whether they were plausible or not in the name of action, conflict, and the spirit of revolution. Concepts were kept vague and were twisted to suit the moment, and most conflicts were resolved usually with Charley pulling off some crazy ninja moves which would make a good action film but aren’t suited to a good book. Charley is supposed to be exceptionally clever and so it’s a shame that he solves every problem with a punch up.

And that brings us to guards. There are too many guards and the fight scenes. The action becomes superficial. Half the city seems to be a guard – even the gate engineers are classified as guards for some reason...

Because of the guard fight scenes, more problems come to light. The book’s main message seems to be: all life is valuable and equal – except if you’re a guard. Charley argues about how no one should decide someone’s value before proceeding to punch, stab, inject, kick and pummel guards - often whilst telling his victims some self-righteous spiel about equality. I started to dislike Charley at that point. It would be better if he stood for what he said he stood for, for example, felt guilty when he was forced to defend himself, or felt regret after the rage passes. This only really happens once. If Ohman was trying to make a point by it, the execution needs a bit of work.

Nearer the end of the book as the plot spins around into something confusing and partially contradictory to the rest of the build up. I won't go into detail, but I will say I was also disappointed by the resolution. In my opinion, a good book ends with a clever resolution. This one didn’t. There one good moment twists but the rest of the ending turned into a big punch up. It would have made a great film, but it’s quite a superficial scene for a book.

Ohman essentially tried to do too much in one novel without fleshing out the important details. Too much in too few words is something I have struggled with in the past and recognised all too well. The concept is great. The pacing is perfect. But the anticlimaxes, action, characters, and general plot development cause this story to unravel into something a bit too thin for me to recommend onwards. Sorry Ohman!


Author Profile

You can discover more about Joel Ohman through his website, follow him on GoodReads, and grab yourself a copy of Meritropolis through Amazon. Also, check out his fantastic interview with details on how he self-published Meritropolis.