I'm a writer because I have stage fright.
West Grayer has a twin somewhere nearby, and that twin wants her dead. Although born of different parents, Grayer is the genetically matched alternate of some unknown girl that looks just like her. In a world where survival is the main priority, children must prove their superior strength and aptitude when activated, which means successfully killing their alternate. This is an attempt to cull the weak from society by members of The Board—the governing body controlling Grayer’s homeland. But when a tragedy occurs, Grayer must find another—controversial—method to survive the coming battle with her twin.
I wanted to like this book. There was a dystopia, there were applied survival tactics, and there was suspense. Unfortunately, I will not be reading the second book in the series. But before I touch on what bothered me so much, let’s look at the positive.
Dualed has a very interesting idea behind it. The theory of the “survival of the fittest” was explored from the perspective of a young woman who had to adopt the ideology to have a future. In this particular narrative, she will die—one way or the other—if she doesn’t accept this model for humanity.
What is interesting about Grayer is that (spoiler) she isn’t particularly good at fighting. This is a horrible reality in a society that glorifies violence and power. It makes for an interesting character flaw. So many dystopian and post-apocalyptic stories have children who are unnaturally skilled with weapons. I find that much harder to believe than Grayer’s ineptitude.
Unfortunately the things I liked about the book stop here. While I thought the idea interesting, Chapman did not sell me on the society. I found most of it to be unbelievable. How could countless parents let their kids die in battle without trying to sabotage the system? Why were people accepting this as normal? Why were the kids allowed (spoiler) to kill each other in the middle of public places? It was too much to believe, even for a society with the ideology that it had. There wasn’t enough dissonance. Those who did have deviant thoughts were usually minor characters with only a brief moment to critique the political structure before they were swept back into the background and out of the main plot.
Another annoying aspect of this book is the melodrama. Nearly everything Grayer experienced that was remotely stressful was handled with over-the-top description. Trying to plow through Grayer’s 3,000 emotional responses to a single punch (yes, I see the irony in me being melodramatic here) was tedious and made me want to quit the book. The ending was the worst. Through sheer force of will, I made it all the way through.
The most grievous mistake of this novel is Chord and his incessant nagging. He wants to protect Grayer by being close, she wants to protect him by being far away. There are pages and pages devoted to the circular arguments of these two characters, who are supposedly (spoiler but not really) love interests. Chord acts as a possessive, parental stalker that won’t leave Grayer alone despite her consistent insistence that he back off. Somehow, later, (spoiler) this translates into a romantic love affair. I’m scratching my head on this one.
All that being said, there were moments of really good writing. But until Chapman starts something outside of Grayer’s world, I don’t think I’ll be reading any more work by her.