The moment I read the blurb for The Culling I knew I had to read it. It has this totally bone chilling premise, you see, and it made the hair on my arms stand on end. I'm sure you're wondering: did it deliver?
Well... yes, and no.
The Culling is a book that I zipped through effortlessly and which I really enjoyed. However, there are a few flaws that keep it from reaching absolute perfection. If you are interested in my full thoughts, read on for my complete review!
(Summary from GoodReads)
Recruitment Day is here...if you fail, a loved one will die...
For Lucian “Lucky” Spark, Recruitment Day means the Establishment, a totalitarian government, will force him to become one of five Recruits competing to join the ruthless Imposer task force. Each Recruit participates in increasingly difficult and violent military training for a chance to advance to the next level. Those who fail must choose an “Incentive”—a family member—to be brutally killed. If Lucky fails, he’ll have to choose death for his only living relative: Cole, his four-year-old brother.
Lucky will do everything he can to keep his brother alive, even if it means sacrificing the lives of other Recruits’ loved ones. What Lucky isn’t prepared for is his undeniable attraction to the handsome, rebellious Digory Tycho. While Lucky and Digory train together, their relationship grows. But daring to care for another Recruit in a world where love is used as the ultimate weapon is extremely dangerous. As Lucky soon learns, the consequences can be deadly...
Hear that? That's the sound of a bone chilling premise making me shiver in both horror and delight. I've heard some people compare The Culling to The Hunger Games, but I must say... While The Hunger Games is, humbly, the stronger novel ... the idea of my actions getting my family killed would likely upset me more then my mistakes costing me my own life. Not sure if that's just a me thing, but I really wanted to get that out there right away.
The real question, though, is whether the premise is really carried to its full extent. And this is, again, a yes ... and no... answer. There are some extremely creative and gruesome deaths in The Culling, but one thing that I noticed as I read was that the deaths and the characters they happened to were chosen with very deliberate care... to protect the reader. This may or may not work for you. I will admit it likely made the book easier for me to read. BUT... and this is a big but... that came at the price of the believibility and consistency of the world Steven Dos Santos was trying to create. So I found it a bit of a mixed bag.
On the other hand, I will commend him for how he built up the novel rather then dropping us dead into the actual Recruitment trials themselves. You get to really feel for Lucky and his competitors to a point where no matter who something was happening to, I was interested, alert and freaking scared. I really wish this had gone further and we had dug deeper into each character--especially Lucky himself--but as far as how they effected the plot all was good.
Lucky was a decent protagonist. Unfortunately, I probably found him the least interesting of the major characters (talking about the other competitors and Cassius here) in the novel. I think that my key problem with Lucky is that his character is, ultimately, defined by its relationships with other characters. This is obviously an important aspect of characterization, but it only shows us one part of who he is. I can say that I understand it's much harder to show other things in the context of a really harsh dystopian environment, but it does not take away from my want of that for him.
Who gets my "favorite character" sticker this go around? That would actually go to Cassius. While he isn't in the book a ton, the scenes with him tend to be really interesting and the choices he makes and the way he behaves makes him really memorable. What *is* his deal? How did he wind up the way he did, to get to a point where making such choices was okay? Did / Does he really care about Lucky? (I believe strongly that a character can be epicly flawed and still capable of THINKING they love someone.)
Last I'll talk about Digory. I thought he was a pretty good character, but the big problem I had with him was that he and Cassius seemed like flip sides of a coin, with Digory coming out a bit too perfect. I like some depth and issues with my love interests, especially in a world where everyone is bound to be a little warped in their morality by sheer association. Digory didn't suck and wasn't totally boring, but he paled next to Cassius, even though Cassius was definitely NOT a nice guy.
The other competitors were interesting, but kept at an arm's length, yet again, to protect a reader from falling over the edge. I particularly felt that Ophelia was memorable and despite all that happened, my heart broke for her at the end. Why? You'll need to read the book to find that out. ;)
Okay, first up this is an M / M romance. I'm totally cool with that personally, but I feel I should tell you guys that because I recall vividly starting to read this and going "Wait... Digory is a guy? Okay."
You see, the whole M / M thing isn't a big deal in the culture of the world Steven Dos Santos has created, which is something I felt was distinct, cool and refreshing. There was a LOT going on in this book and that type of ignorance, closed-mindedness and hatred was another flavor of F'd up the book just didn't need--it had enough crap going on as it was.
Now that that's out of the way... How was the romance itself? Hmm...
I think this might be another yes ... but no. It wasn't like the romance was flat out terrible or like something happened that made me want to throw things. But I also didn't feel a deep and intense connection between the characters the way I want to when characters fall in love. (For instance: despite how Will Grayson, Will Grayson ends, I recall caring about what would happen to Tiny Cooper more then about any other character in the novel. My point? My lack of connection has nothing to do with the genders of the LIs in question. I just want that to be totally clear.)
I think my favorite thing about the romance aspect of this book is actually the love triangle. I was really interested in how things were between Cassius and Lucky and I wish that what had set Cassius off to act as the catalyst of the main plot had been handled a little more clearly. I "got it" by the end what had happened and how, but I was really confused for a while and it temporarily weakened him, which was a shame since (even though he did bad things) I really liked him / found him intriguing.
The Culling is not perfect, but it was a joy to read and I know I definitely want the sequel. I was going through a major reading slump when I got this for review and this got me out of it and clutching my kindle for dear life, which was really fun. If you are looking for a fast paced read with a bone chilling premise, The Culling is probably the book for you.