Thursday, October 24, 2013

Review: The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

A heart-stopping story of love, death, technology, and art set amid the tropics of a futuristic Brazil.

The lush city of Palmares Três shimmers with tech and tradition, with screaming gossip casters and practiced politicians. In the midst of this vibrant metropolis, June Costa creates art that’s sure to make her legendary. But her dreams of fame become something more when she meets Enki, the bold new Summer King. The whole city falls in love with him (including June’s best friend, Gil). But June sees more to Enki than amber eyes and a lethal samba. She sees a fellow artist.

Together, June and Enki will stage explosive, dramatic projects that Palmares Três will never forget. They will add fuel to a growing rebellion against the government’s strict limits on new tech. And June will fall deeply, unfortunately in love with Enki. Because like all Summer Kings before him, Enki is destined to die.

Pulsing with the beat of futuristic Brazil, burning with the passions of its characters, and overflowing with ideas, this fiery novel will leave you eager for more from Alaya Dawn Johnson.

I’m not gonna lie, a person of color on a book that isn’t an “issue” book is an insta-read for me. So when I saw the gorgeous cover for Alaya Dawn Johnson’s The Summer Prince, my expectations were pretty high. And I’m happy to say that for the most part The Summer Prince lived up to my expectations.

The story takes place in Palmares Tres, a post-apocalyptic city located on/or near the ruins of Rio de Janeiro (geography is murky in the story). Every year Palmares Tres elects a Summer King. At the end of his reign, the Summer King is sacrificed so that the city may continue to prosper, a nod to old, primitive customs. When the book opens June Costa, the self-proclaimed “best artist in Palmares Tres”, is determined to help her favorite candidate, Enki, a dark skinned boy from the poorest part of Palmares Tres, get elected through a light display she plans. Her light display is meh, but it gets the attention of Enki, who goes on to become the Summer King. June is half in love with Enki the way a groupie falls head over heels for a hot lead singer. However, Enki starts shacking up with June’s best friend Gil, and things just get more complicated from there.

Throw in some illegal technology, a simmering rebellion amongst the lower classes, political intrigue, and copious amounts of family drama and you have a book chock full of intricate plotlines and dense world-building that makes the city a character itself (in more ways than one).

I thoroughly enjoyed The Summer Prince, but not without some reservations. This isn't dystopian. This is sci-fi through and through. And the pacing in the first part of the book kind of makes that super obvious. The first fifty pages of the book are extremely slow and rather confusing. Slang and official titles are thrown out with little clarification while Palmares Tres is lovingly built through beautiful turns of phrase and imagery so strong it jumps off of the page. And while this gives the city a life of its own it also causes the story to slow to a stop in some places, trading story momentum for commentary on daily city life.

This feeling of inertia isn’t really helped by June, who is an insufferable brat. She’s spoiled, selfish, stubborn, and downright delusional at times. This makes her a difficult character to want to spend time with. But she’s also oddly compelling in her upper class entitlement. I usually like characters most would classify as unlikeable, and watching June grow and mature beyond what she thinks she knows of the world is awesome, especially in the lightning-fast last third of the book.

And that last third of the book? Amazing.

Overall, The Summer Prince is a worthwhile read. I really dug the book overall, and I’m glad I stuck through the slower parts to get to that awesome end.

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