Author: Susan Jane Bigelow
Genre: Dystopian / Fantasy / Superheroes
Publisher: Candlemark & Gleam
Publication date: January 2011
Ebook: 340 pages
In a post-war future world where First Contact has been made, humans are colonizing the stars, and the nations of Earth have been united under a central government, Extrahumans are required by law to belong to the Union. When a young man with visions of the future sets out on a mission to define the course of human history, he encounters a devastated former hero, a fascist dictatorship bent on world domination, and the realities of living in a society where affiliation is everything.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone but hopefully the beginning of a beautiful series?
How did I get this book: Got a review copy from the publisher.
Why did I read this book: I was offered a review copy and accepted on the strength of the cover (isn’t it great? And sad? It is a sad cover to me) and the blurb: plus I love superheroes!
Broken still remembers how it used to feel being able to fly: not only that but also how it felt to be really fast and how it was all just so effortless. It was pure joy to fly, to float like that, so thank goodness that her memory is not that good, that she hardly ever remembers that feeling. A former super-hero called Silverwyng, an Extrahuman affiliated with the Union, she lost her ability to fly one day and ever since then has been living in the streets, getting by, being forgotten and forgetting, irreparably… broken.
And then one day, this young kid named Michael shows up looking for Silverwyng, carrying a baby in his arms, a baby who according to Michael’s own Extrahuman ability to see the future, is paramount to the future of not only humankind but all alien races as well. He needs her help because in every single possible future he sees, she is there helping them getting to where they need to go – another planet, where the baby will be raised to become a positive leader for all. To convince her, Michael only needs to say that in all possible futures, Broken is flying once more. What he doesn’t tell her is that in some of the futures (the majority of them), they don’t succeed at all, the baby becomes yet another dictator and Michael ends up dead.
Broken is a dystopian novel, set in the future, after humankind have made First Contact and have started inhabiting other planets not with some degree with uneasiness when it comes to cohabiting with other races and cultures. Back at Earth where the story is set, the present is bleak and depressing and the world lives under a dictatorship that has “united” all the nations. Extrahumans are regarded with suspicion and must be affiliated to the Union, which is really under the control of the central government.
The first thing to be said about Broken is how there is very little exposition and info dump about the world and how it got to be how it is. Instead everything is shown and explored in the way that the characters interact with those they meet along the way; in Broken’s short flashbacks as her memories start to resurface; in the way that the streets, and dilapidated buildings are described and how the sense of being controlled and observed is present at every turn. I can’t begin to express how, Broken is a breath of fresh air especially after reading quite a few of (YA) “dystopian” novels lately where the reader is basically expected to simply accept the dystopian aspects of a world without any real exploration of all its elements and where there are no real consequences to a given character’s disregard to the rules within a particular world. In Broken, I felt the character’s fears (as well as fearing for them), the ever present danger and the bleakness of the world very deeply and that was one of the things I enjoyed the most about the novel.
My other favourite elements were the characters and their powers and how they related to each other and to the world they live in. The story alternates point of view between Broken and Michael and it follows both characters in their mission to save the future. There is a great juxtaposition between Broken and Michael for example: Broken is a former hero, Michael is just starting being one (although one can certainly argue about the extent of Broken’s heroics in the past so in a way perhaps she is really just starting, just like Michael); Broken is bitter about the past, Michael is bitter about the future. With regards to their powers, there is a lot of a sad irony when it comes to Broken because her other power is that of self-healing from any injury, including those that cause her own death, which means that she is never really broken forever, except for being unable to fly, the thing that matters the most to her. Michael on the other hand, can see the future, but not in the a straight, unique line for at any given time he is able to see several parallel futures at the same time, meaning that there is no predetermined future but different ones depending on the choices made by each character. This is probably the best thing about the novel (on top of everything else I already mentioned), that it is an exploration of heroism, of what it means to be a real hero in world that hates them, how to be a hero without having powers, how to be a hero having powers. Michael is super young and already saddled with such difficult choices: every time he looks in the mirror he sees his own possible futures and very few of them end up well, especially those relating to this very mission and yet he still chooses to undertake it. The fact that the author wrote a story in such a bleak world, and doesn’t really shy away from those bleak aspects (what an ending) but still managing to somehow convey hope is only the cherry on top.
Notable Quotes/ Parts:
BROKEN REMEMBERED FLIGHT.
She lay on her back, belly aching with hunger. Nearby, a pace–?bound ship heaved itself off the ground with a sigh and a groan, then sluggishly powered its way up towards the outer atmosphere and the vacuum beyond.
She followed its path with her finger, tracing the dissipating wake back and forth. Silverwyng had been more graceful by far.
Rating: 7 Very Good and leaning towards 8
Reading Next: Stories edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio