The Deserter


Author: Peadar O Guilín

Publication: 2011 David Fickling Books

Pages: 440

Overall Rating: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Rating for Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: After learning that the deadly Diggers are coming ever closer to their new home, Stopmouth realizes that he has no choice but to head to the roof and find Indrani – to bring her back, along with as many weapons as he can find. Because if they can’t stop the Diggers his tribe is dead.

But the roof is vast and strange, and before Stopmouth even knows what’s happened he finds himself caught up in a civil war with unimaginable stakes.

Age of Main Character: Uncertain – they don’t count by years

What I Liked the Most: As with The Inferior, Guilín serves up another masterful example of world building. The Roof – it’s construction, it’s inhabitants, the internal political and cultural struggles, the nanobots that keep it running, the virus that is slowly destroying it – is grand, colorful and hugely complex. It will take most of the book for you to even begin to comprehend the place’s true scale.

And Guilín paints a fascinating picture of what can happen when a society gives complete control over every aspect of life to benevolent machines. Almost no one in the Roof needs to work – no one needs to do anything in order to survive. They’ve devolved into a world of dreamers – trapped by the intoxicating enchantments of virtual reality – voyeurs who take pleasure in watching the suffering of the deserters and aliens they’ve sent to live on the surface, and religious rebels ready to argue and fight over the smallest point of ethics and morality while completely overlooking their own personal failings. It’s a grand, thought-provoking landscape.

What I Liked the Least: Wonderfully huge and fascinating as the Roof can be, in some ways it feels too complex for its own good. The first hundred or so pages that Stopmouth spends there were hard to get into because I spent most of it feeling as confused and uncertain as he did. At the same time, while Stopmouth was generally overwhelmed by the sheer number of people in the Roof, he seemed to take the vast array of new technology, ideas, and arguments a little too in stride.

However, my real issue with the book was a deep sense of disappointment in the residents of the Roof. The story takes place far in the future, when we’ve achieved unprecedented levels of technological advancement. And yet the attitudes and arguments of the Roof dwellers are firmly lodged in the 17th century – looking down on the surface dwellers as nothing but mindless, dirty savages while they themselves engage in hyper-violent genocidal warfare with distant alien species and descend into bloody and divisive struggles over religion. Other than Indrani, I couldn’t find a single resident of the Roof who truly rose above that mentality, which made it hard to connect with them. I needed at least one sympathetic character to identify with, and I couldn’t find them.

How Good was the Action? It’s definitely good, but all the same it fell a bit short of the action in The Inferior. The reason is pretty simple. No matter how high the stakes where – and there were plenty of times when Stopmouth was fighting for his life or the lives of his family – they couldn’t equal a book where every single encounter was eat or be eaten. In fact, the only action scene that truly reaches the level found in The Inferior is one where Stopmouth has to fight off an escaped beast before he becomes its dinner.

That said, there is still plenty of great action to be had, as Stopmouth time and again faces off against overwhelming odds, fighting in tight corridors, in the pitch dark, or amidst vast graveyards of frozen bodies.

How Engaging was the Story? It’s a mix. The early part of the book and the last half really pulled me in, as Stopmouth realizes the encroaching danger of the Diggers and sets off in pursuit of Indrani, and later – having found Indrani – as they struggle to fight off hordes of elite wardens and uncover the truth while making their way through the dying remnants of the Roof. But in between, when Stopmouth first reaches the Roof and struggles to come to terms with this strange new world, I got frustrated. I found the story both too confusing and a bit too simplistic, as Stopmouth just rolls along, seemingly unfazed by the utter strangeness of the world around him.

Overall Assessment: While not quite as engaging as The Inferior, Guilín’s second book is still a masterful example of world-building – complex, though provoking, and powerful – with enough bloody action to keep the story roaring along.

Profanity: Very little

Sex: A few kisses, but nothing more

Violence: Definitely. While the fights didn’t feel quite as intense this time around, Stopmouth is still forced to battle to the death on more than one occasion and the fights can be bloody, visceral affairs. Plus, in the overcrowded, failing world of The Roof death is a constant companion and it is rarely pleasant.

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