Author: Alex London

Publication: 2013, Philomel

Pages: 379

Overall Rating: bth_5-star-rating_zps467d5332[1]

Rating for Action: bth_35_zps7a173504[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_35_zps7a173504[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: Knox is a patron, the son of one of The City’s most wealthy and powerful families. Syd is his proxy. Whenever Knox does something wrong, Syd gets punished. He’s done hard labor for Knox, taken beatings for him. But when Knox commits one crime too many Syd is branded and sentenced to death. Syd and Knox – one a proxy, the other his patron. But beneath that stark contrast the two boys have far more in common than they could ever have guessed, and Syd’s death sentence forces them together, fleeing The City on a mad quest to bring down Knox’s father and end the system that has kept them both trapped.

Age of Main Character: 16

What I Liked the Most: The sheer emotional depth London manages to achieve without sacrificing the taut atmosphere of a good post-apocalyptic thriller. At first, London seems to break one of the cardinal rules of fiction by head hopping – moving from one character’s point of view to another within the same scene – but he does it so smoothly and effortlessly that I hardly noticed it was happening. And yet, I was often able to experience the same events from multiple perspectives, each of which gave me deeper insights into the characters. This book really rides on the twin shoulders of Knox and Syd, and the story is rich with their ongoing conflict and the slow shift that takes them from hatred and indifference to the closeness of brothers. Wonderfully done.

As rich as that emotional depth is, it’s matched by the moral quandaries of a society that has taken debt to its logical limits, where desperately poor people offer up the only thing they have in exchange for housing, school, and luxury goods – control over their bodies and their lives. It’s easy to condemn the system until you put it in context – that The City represents the last vestiges of civilization and technology on the continent. Everything beyond it is a morass of wastelands, bandits, rebels, and refugees desperate to reach what safety and order The City has to offer.

So what would you do if you were a refugee out in the wastelands? What would you sacrifice to reach The City? And what happens if you tear down the structure of debt and contracts that allows The City to exist? It’s an impossible situation, and you can’t read Proxy without thinking about the moral implications of what Syd and Knox are trying to do.

What I Liked the Least: The Patrons and wealthy residents who run The City have an army of genetically enhanced guardians to protect them and keep the proxies in line. And yet, the guardians always seem to be too slow. Even though they’re designed to be far stronger and faster than the average person, whenever they chase Knox and Syd the two boys always have plenty of time to not only get away but have an argument in the process. And somehow, despite all their technology and security apparatus, the guardians always end up one step behind. The end result is that the guardians never felt all that scary. In fact, they come off as far less threatening than many of the gangsters we encounter during the course of the book. This may be due in part to the fact that there was no single guardian in charge of the case. They were little more than a faceless mass, and that made Syd and Knox’s escape a lot less tense and exciting than it might otherwise have been.

How Good was the Action? Battles and chases with the guardians were marred by how slow, faceless, and generally unimpressive the guardians seemed to be. There are some excellent action scenes in the book, including a taut and emotionally powerful encounter with a gang of bandits, but on the whole Proxy is less about action than about a powerful, all pervasive, sense of tension.

How Engaging was the Story? The emotional interplay between Knox and Syd, the moral complexities of their world, and the sacrifices Syd is called upon to make come together in a tour-de-force that you’ll feel compelled to read.

Overall Assessment: A powerful and thought provoking book. Knox and Syd will force you to redefine the meaning of loyalty and friendship and to question the true cost and value of civilization. Once read, it’s a story you won’t soon forget.

Profanity: Minimal.

Sex: A few kisses, some mild fantasizing.

Violence: Some. The worst violence is probably the beatings and punishments that Syd takes. There are a few fights, and a stabbing or two, but most of the fights take place with EMD sticks – some kind of nerve disruptor that can cause extreme pain or even kill, but does so without blood. So the fights often take a strong emotional toll, but with little or no gore.

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