Sometimes as readers we need to read one of those special books that remind us why we read. Why we spend countless hours taking words on a page and allowing our mind to weave them into worlds filled with sights and sounds, textures and tastes. Why this crazy habit makes us feel more alive, even as we often slip into worlds that our day to day round would do everything in it's power to tell us are not real.
Likewise, for those of us who write, we sometimes need a reminder of why we allow ourselves to succumb to the madness. The random snippets of conversation that pop into our heads, the waking up at 3 a.m. to jot down a description for a 60 foot tower made of key lime pie. You get the idea, the point, I hope. It can be weird!
What happens to you when you love a book? Do you carry it with you when you go for a ride in the car? Do you bring it to the dinner table while you are waiting for the food to finish cooking? Do you start finding people who you want to loan your copy to when you are only 3/4 of the way through? I did all of that here.
For me, BZRK was a gigantic reminder of why I love both reading and writing. It does so many things that hooked me, fascinated me, terrified me and really made me think. It is written in a very interesting fashion with characters who are all true shades of gray. But I am getting ahead of myself here. Let me break this down and I'll tell you why you absolutely must read this book.
The Plot: (Summary from GoodReads)
Time is running out for the good guys. But what happens when you don’t know who the good guys really are?
Noah and Sadie: newly initiated into an underground cell so covert they don’t even know each other’s real names. Trained for combat on the nano level, they are thrust into a war they can barely grasp.
Vincent: feels nothing and cares for no one. Fighting a personal battle with Bug Man, the greatest nano warrior alive.
The Armstrong Twins: wealthy, privileged, fanatical. Are they the saviors of humanity or authors of the darkest conspiracy in history?
On one side: Charles and Benjamin Armstrong’s Nexus Humanus. On the other: a group of teen hackers who call themselves BZRK.
Twenty-first-century warfare that takes place on the macro and nano level for the highest stakes: humanity’s free will.
It’s time to choose sides.
Yesterday I posted about not being able to get hooked on anything I've started reading. When the UPS guy came with BZRK I decided that I would flip it open and at least get a feel for the writing. Read the first chapter or two if they caught my interest. Well, I finished BZRK at 10:30 last night. After carrying it with me in the car and reading at the dinner table while I waited for dinner to finish cooking. So I think "interested" might be a bit of an understatement.
Basically, the big question in BZRK is: "What is more important, freedom or happiness?" The interesting thing is that it's not as straight forward as it sounds. Because the moment you have to make a choice between these two things, due to a need to fight for them, the question changes to "What will you do for freedom?" or "What will you do for happiness?" and when this happens, things can get very, very ugly.
I love the fact that the book drops us off at a mental institution on page one, showing us what happens when a member of BZRK is defeated. We immediately see the stakes of taking part in this war, up close and personal, before we even really know (from the inside of the book, at least) that a war is going on. We are then thrown into the final minutes of Sadie's (Plath's) brother and father's lives. What makes this whole introduction so awesome, is that we actually suffer with the characters through the things that make them able to become who and what they do by the end of the book. It grabbed me immediately, threw me into their corner, and had me moving through the book full steam forward wanting answers and seeking something -- justice? closure? I don't really know -- for these story people.
The book makes excellent use of third person multiple POV. We get into the action quicker then our 'main' hero and heroine do. (Although I think I'd personally say this is more of a cast book.) I think Michael did a great job of using this style of writing to its maximum effect. I also think, for the major changes at least, that he did a great job of making it clear who's head we were in. There were a few times that he did jump back and forth, or when he switched quickly because a character was no longer conscious, but it did not bother me. However, the most confusing thing, and I think this was partially on purpose, was getting use to someone describing the "macro" or "real world" happenings and then jumping to the "nano" or "inside someone's body" view. As I read further into the book this became less jarring but at first it definitely spun me for a loop.
The first thing I want to say here is that each member of BZRK chooses a new name when they join, and these tend to be names of famous people who had various issues throughout history. I'm telling you this so that when I talk about characters you won't be left scratching your head.
The next thing I want to say, was that these are some of the most interesting characters that I have encounted in a long time. The "good guys" aren't necessarily good, and the "bad guys" motives and desires are not always instantly evil. I love this in a story. It's possibly my favorite thing and I am always delighted to find a tale where an author is not afraid to explore it.
Noah (Keats) and Sadie (Plath) both essentially want revenge. Noah's brother was a member of BZRK and was taken out, and therefore went crazy. Sadie's brother and father are killed by someone from Armstrong Fancy Goods Corp. (AFGC) I thought that it was clever how these two were paired up, and how they immediately caught onto this fact. I liked the fact that we got to see both of them at their "low" at the start of the book, and then basically watched them take a hero's journey as they learnt what was going on and became part of it as the story continues. Further, I liked the fact that they did not go from being innocent to doing a full 180 and going "Let's kick butt!". Instead, they actually faced fear, doubt, sadness and frustration.
Vincent really intrigued me. Unable to feel pleasure because of a medical condition, yet he still has no qualms in getting involved with Dr. Anya Violet, and despite the fact that I never fully got the feeling there was anything between them (that was real -- and I will get to that.) he did want to protect her. Vincent was also largely responsible for Noah and Sadie's training and is generally considered the leader unless orders come from Lear (the actual leader of BZRK, whose identity is still a total mystery!).
My favorite character, though, is Caligula. He's the BZRK enforcer, the guy you don't want to have drop by for a cup of tea if you've done anything that might be considered a breach of trust or a flat out betrayal. Why did I love him so much? Because Michael Grant built him up to be a major bad ass, and on that account he delivered in every way. That alone wouldn't do it for me, though -- Caligula seemed to have a sense of humor and a very tongue in cheek sense of style -- who doesn't love a guy in a purple velvet top hat? He also doesn't seem to be one of the people actually fighting at the nano level, so it leaves me very curious how he got involved with BZRK and what his deal actually is.
Lastly, my gushing about characters would not be complete if I didn't talk to you about the Bug Man. The Armstrong Twins might be the one with the vision, but Bug Man is the guy a lot of the key characters have an actual ax to grind with. Thing is, he's a sixteen year old guy who happens to be a bit too good at games and who got scooped up to be part of Nexus Humanus. Does he buy into the "in the name of happiness" stuff? No way. Does he want to be The Man and have fame, influence, a hot girlfriend, etc.? Hell yeah. Bug Man was not always a likable character, but he was one with motives I could understand. They came from roots that were, of themselves, not evil. Rather, it is how he took action to achieve his dreams that has him in hot water. That makes for a terrific antagonist.
While I do not feel that this book is a "love" story that I would anxiously recommend to readers who like the kinds of books I normally review, I feel that the take that Michael Grant spins in the romance department is interesting and worth a few words. Is there chemistry and interest between Sadie and Noah? Yes. Does it seem instant and caused by immediate stress and circumstances beyond their control? Yep. But are they aware of this and do they address it? Absolutely. Which is something that I do not feel is common in your typical YA book.
But wait, it gets better. One of my favorite things about BZRK was the parallel between Bug Man and Jessica v.s. Vincent and Anya. Bug Man thinks Jessica is gorgeous, but he's kinda 'eh' looking with a not so fabulous personality. In short, he figures there is no way that he could ever get with her through normal means. So what does he do? He uses his abilities with nano tech to wire her to think that everything good leads to him. He essentially makes her his slave.
Vincent, on the other hand, needs research and facilities that Dr. Anya Violet can get him access to. He is not certain that she will help him willingly, though, so he uses his abilities to begin wiring her brain. Remember: Vincent is suppose to be fighting to preserve people's ability to have free will. And unlike Jessica, where the deed is fully done, with Anya we see a woman who is going through the process of having this done, and who is smart enough and knowledgeable enough to realize that Vincent is doing it, yet who has no power to stop him.
Bug Man wishes Jessica would choose him, but he ultimately made her choice for her. Vincent is using his abilities to strip someone of free will, all the while fighting to preserve humanity's right to have free will rather then being turned into a hive mind by Nexus Humanus.
Take a moment. Breathe. Now, try to wrap your head around all of the implications of that. I am impressed and eager to see how these things continue.
This is what I love most about being part of Blog It Forward. BZRK is not a book I would likely have picked up on my own, and I would have missed out on something totally awesome. I need to point out that there is a fair amount of actual science in what is being discussed in this book, but it is not bogged down in terminology and never takes away from the story. I also want to praise the fact that Michael Grant did such a great job at describing things at the Nano level. He did so in such a way that it would be relatable and able to be 'seen' by a reader, and at the same time had it make perfect sense why gamers would be drawn to it.
BZRK isn't just a great book, it is a totally mind blowing experience that will leave you lying awake and thinking long after you turn the last page. If you haven't read it yet, I'd highly recommend checking it out!