Book Review: Beyond the Wall by Lucas Bale
I had seen a couple of other people reading this series, and then shortly after, I saw that the first two books were on sale so I decided to pick them up. I'm so glad I did, because this has quickly become one of my favorite sci-fi series.
Let me start by saying that the series doesn't follow the typical pattern where you start out with one set of characters in book 1, and then follow them into book 2 and so on. Rather, The Heretic and Defiance follow two completely different sets of characters in the same universe. I was warned about this before I started reading, but based on other reviews I've seen, some readers were a little shocked by this when they started reading Defiance. Don't worry. I know it's a little scary to leave the original cast of characters behind, but Bale is a masterful storyteller, and the characters in Defiance are just as captivating as the ones in The Heretic. It's an unusual way to write a series, but I have no doubt that it will all make sense by the end.
I couldn't put this down. It has everything I love in a good sci-fi story: an intriguing premise, captivating characters, great pacing, and settings described so perfectly that they felt real. The writing is clean and articulate with descriptions that are vivid without becoming excessive. The characters jump off the page (or, you know, whatever electronic reading device you happen to be using). The story moves along at a brisk pace without any extraneous events or details. Bale doesn't give us a bunch of information right up front, so you have to pay attention to figure out what's going on, but it was fun to pull out pieces of background info as the story went along and piece it all together.
One thing I really appreciated about this book was not being overwhelmed with an insane number of characters. I've seen that a lot in some of the science fiction I've read recently, which is fine, but this was a refreshing change. I would much rather have a small cast of important characters we get to know well throughout the course of the story, and that's exactly what I got here with Jordi, Shepherd, and the preacher. Another thing I appreciated: not having a bunch of science thrown in my face. I have always freely admitted that I don't like a ton of science in my sci-fi, probably because it's all way over my head and overwhelming. (I know - I'm a terrible science fiction fan. Sue me.) The science is explained well enough here that you get an idea of what's going on and how things work, but it's not analyzed in excruciating detail. By the time I finished this book, I couldn't wait to read the next one.
It's hard for me to decide which of the two books I liked better, but after reading through the last few chapters of Defiance last night, I have to say this one is my favorite. First of all, I loved the characters. I wasn't a big fan of Weaver from the start as he seemed like kind of a stiff, overly-analytical, unemotional jerk. As the story progressed, however, the layers began to peel away and he became much more relatable. I've always loved characters with layers (ogres are like onions and all that), and Weaver was brilliantly written. So was Natasha, though I liked her a little better right from the get go. Elias was also an interesting character and, once again, I appreciated not being overwhelmed with a bunch of extra characters I didn't care about.
The story told here is a little more bleak than in The Heretic, but I liked that. We learned a little more about the setting here and the way the society works here, too. I'm a social work student, so I'm kind of a nerd about learning how different societies (even fictional ones) work - their organization, problems, dysfunctions, and so on. I love that this series provides such a believably grim picture of humanity and then touches on so many different societal and personal issues that arise for the people as a result of living in such a world.
The last probably 1/3 of the book - particularly the chapters from Natasha's point of view - had me cowering under my blankets, jumping at every little sound. Be ready to be terrified. Seriously, don't read the last parts of the book when you're home all alone in a dark apartment at midnight. The suspense was ridiculous.
I can't wait to find out what happens next. I love Bale's writing style and the complex characters and setting he has created. I am honestly so thrilled to have discovered this series. I haven't been this excited about a story in a while and it feels wonderful.