Dualed by Elsie Chapman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I enjoyed reading Dualed but towards the end the numerous problems in the book just compounded to the point I was happy it was finally over. Which is sad because I was thoroughly engaged and entertained for most of the book until the flaws overwhelmed the story. There are a lot of things to like about this, which are mostly about the concept, but sadly in the end I just didn’t even like the main character let alone care that she’s the one that survives. I’ll probably read the next one depending on what the premise is.
Dualed is a pretty classic, and in some ways predictable, dystopian YA book. West is 15 y/o and living in a world where procreation is strictly controlled. For reasons that make absolutely no sense whatsoever, every child is born with a genetic twin and between the ages of 10 and 20, those twins will have to fight to the death with one emerging as the victor. For starters the world building is confusing and contradictory at best. It’s a typical dystopian world sure so I didn’t mind but the rules that govern the people don’t really make any sense. Supposedly there was a cold vaccine that made everyone infertile so war broke out. Then a small group fortified a huge city and decided that children and teenagers should fight to the death to prove their worth. It’s a twist on previous themes but without any real motivation. At least other books had a reason, however thin.
So anyway West loses her entire family through a series of accidents happening off-page and then gets her assignment to kill her genetic twin, called an Alt. Instead of facing her Alt, she runs off and tries to hide, going through an existential crisis about her worth. In the beginning of the book, West is introduced as an embittered, tough, stubborn as a mule, know-it-all. She lectures others about the importance of keeping the advantage and going after your Alt immediately. So it’s no real surprise that she does the exact opposite and runs for the entire length of the novel. Not surprising, but annoying all the same. While in hiding she becomes an assassin, called a striker. This is a weird and unnecessary side trip.
As a striker, she’s hired to kill other people’s Alts. So instead of killing her own, she’s decided that she’ll get better at killing by killing several other people first. Supposedly this doesn’t happen often enough for the government to care but judging by the number of kills West makes in a month, there’s no way that’s reasoning holds. But again, a lot of the reasoning and logic is flimsy so you kind of have to just go with it. Anyway West spends all this unnecessary time killing other people pretty easily and trying to hide from the only family she has left, her brother’s best friend Chord. Of course West thinks she knows better so she can’t have help, she has to protect Chord by being mean to him. The only real reason this assassin business is added is to lengthen the book. It has no real connection to the characters and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
It’s not that any of this is bad per se, though it’s so tired it makes my head hurt. It’s just that West is never a character I could root for or even care about. She spends way too much time whining and hiding for no real reason. There’s no genuine confusion about her skills and the long drawn out wait feels manufactured at best. Yet there is some real contradiction to her character. She’s a professional assassin that kills people very easily, but makes some really obvious mistakes. Not the kind of mistakes that make a character more interesting but the kind that made me roll my eyes. For most of the book I could forgive this and enjoy the concept of the story but especially at the end West makes so many mistakes I found her too stupid to live and hoped the Alt would win.
This is a great concept that needed to be fleshed out more. It feels too thin, too quick and not enough polish. A lot of the reasoning offered just makes no sense and is flat out contradictory. The characters all feel transitory. There’s nothing wrong with a sense of danger and that the main characters could possibly die, but this book doesn’t feel like that. It feels like the characters are sketches without the real depth added yet. For all this I did enjoy reading it as I like the genre and the concept. It was just at the end that there are too many straws for this camel’s back.