Think you can stop an attack with a well-timed soliloquy? Can you pin an opponent in place with a paperclip twisted into a scatterclip? Can you paint yourself invisible?
At age thirteen, Alex Stowe would say all such things are impossible. To be creative in Quill, means to be given infractions. Infractions lead to being labeled Unwanted. At the annual Purge, all the young Wanteds are sent off to university for further training. The Necessaries are set aside to perform more menial roles in society. The Unwanteds are sent to the Death Camp by the Lake of Burning Oil.
While his parents are Necessaries, that has little bearing on Alex Stowe’s future. He knew he would be Unwanted by the time he was ten years old. While his identical twin Aaron is eager to leave everything he knew behind for his Wanted future, Alex boards a rickety bus, his final words spoken. Death awaits him and the other young teenagers from his area at the end of the ride.
Death Camp isn’t anything like Alex expected. It’s not just a desolate piece of ground. That’s only the cover. Instead, it’s a concealed community filled with Unwanteds. For years, the mage Marcus Today has faked the deaths of the Unwanteds and secreted them away in Artime. There they can learn to use the creative talents that sentenced them away from Quillian society in the first place. In Artime, these talents can also be used for magic.
Tubes transport people from place to place in Artime. Living chalkboards spread messages back and forth. Instructors may be other humans or they may be magical creations such as Octavia, the octogator that teaches Alex his art. Living statues protect the grounds, such as grim Simber the flying cheetah. Everyone has a private instructor in addition to the basic group lessons. Artime is a place of wonder and of training.
While there is much about his new home to love, Alex also finds much frustration. When his new friends and other peers move on to magical warrior training, he alone is denied the training. Feeling like a failure and tired of the magical pranks pulled on him by young Lani, Alex withdraws. Miserable, he turns to dreams, dreams of rescuing his twin from Quill because Alex knows something no one else does–Aaron too once drew in the mud and it was Alex who paid for Aaron’s ‘crime.’
Part dystopia, part fantasy, the Unwanteds is a book I’ll want to visit again to see what else Lisa McMann adds to this world. The second book is due out in 2012.