Saturday, May 11, 2013

Book Review: The Amethyst Road by Louise Spiegler

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Title: The Amethyst Road
Author: Louise Spiegler
Publisher: Clarion Books
Hardcover: 328 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
In a society similar to ours in some ways and very different in others, 16-year-old Serena and her older sister, Willow, struggle to get by in a tough, crime-infested urban neighborhood. By birth they are half Yulang, half Gorgio, but are accepted by neither race. The sisters get no help from the Yulang, because Willow’s child was born out of wedlock and the family has been declared outcast. The Gorgios are even worse, trying to take the child away.  
A run-in with social services, aptly nicknamed the Cruelty, launches Serena on a journey that is at once an escape and a quest to reunite her family. With the help of a boy named Shem, who is on a quest of his own, Serena travels deep into the mountains, where precious gems are mined, and across barren plains, where white-clad Trident Riders are terrorizing anyone who is not Gorgio. Along the way, Serena finds the answers she seeks—and some she didn’t even know she was looking for.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I can't believe this book isn't more popular than it is -- it's so good! I actually had a hard time deciding which genre it would fit into (in my opinion, always the sign of an interesting, complex story), but I think "alternate history" works best. The book follows the story of Serena, a half-Yulang, half-Gorgio who has been declared outcast because her sister had a child out of wedlock. When that child is taken away by the bureaucratic-loving Gorgios, Serena attacks two people working with social services (an agency nicknamed the Cruelty) and has to escape when she believes she kills one of them.  A boy named Shem offers to help her, and together they set off on a journey to get their lives going on the right path.

I am a huge fan of coming-of-age stories, especially when they involve a headstrong girl who needs to learn when to use her temper and when to curb it in order to survive in the world. Through her journey, Serena learns that there are actually good people in the world who are willing to help those in need, and sometimes, situations aren't as black-and-white as she'd like them to be.

The real strength of this book lies within the characters. They are so relatable, complex, and interesting. I liked that Spiegler didn't reveal everything about Shem in the beginning -- his motives for helping out Serena aren't fully revealed into rather late in the novel, and I appreciated the mystery his character represented. As always with coming-of-age novels (probably the main reason why I like them so much), the characters show a great amount of growth throughout the story.

Also, the storytelling is fantastic. Nothing is cut-and-dry, there are plenty of surprises and twists to keep you flipping the pages and wanting more answers. I don't think The Amethyst Road has enough action to be considered a true adventure book, but I felt like that's exactly what I was reading. I had a hard time putting the book down once I picked it up, because the stakes were high and I needed to know that everything was going to turn out all right.

There are some problems that I would expect from the first book of an author. Sometimes, we are told things instead of shown them, but they were really minor, especially compared to all the good stuff within this story.

If you can find this, pick it up. It's so worth the read. I'm planning on reading Spiegler's other book, The Jewel and the Key, and I hope she writes more.