Echoes of The Maze Runner and Hunger Games. This three book dystopian series follows a familiar formula, but brings in a unique premise and riveting world building to set it apart.
In the small community of Claysoot, behind the Wall, boys vanish at midnight on their 18th birthdays. The ground shakes, the wind howls, a blinding light descends, and young men are Heisted.
Gray has one year to accept his fate. But after watching his only family, his brother Blaine, disappear only weeks ago, he isn’t sure he can face it so calmly. While dealing with his grief, he comes across a small clue that leads him to believe that there is more to the Heist and the Wall than the town believes. Is the Wall actually worse than the Heist? What could possibly lie beyond it that scares people more than disappearance into nothingness?
This series ran hot and cold for me. On one hand, I tore though it, and really wanted to know how it ended. But on the other hand, it seems to drag in many places. I seriously think three books was too long for it – author Erin Bowman could have made one longer, standalone novel, and it could have been incredible. The premise is unusual, but the execution falls just short.
Gray is well-developed; smart but undisciplined, unable to make a decision without second guessing everything. He is a believable teenage boy, likeable some times, other times a complete ass who I could cheerfully toss off the Wall myself. Impulsive and selfish, but consistent throughout. He does grow and mature a bit through the series, but remains the same person at heart.
The secondary characters were a mix. Blaine is the annoying perfect big brother, but I actually found him to be quite a weak character. Granted, he is not present throughout the entire series due to various circumstances, but he seems a bit vanilla when he is there. Bree and Emma, Sammy, Clipper, Harvey and Frank all have good roles, and are well drawn. Although Bree and Emma both annoy me. A lot.
Love triangles can be good, but this one seems unnecessary and predictable, and takes all three books to resolve. MAKE. UP. YOUR. MINDS. Sheesh.
The plot is good. The idea of a central power controlling lives and fighting rebels is not a new one, but Bowman gives it a few twists. The Forgeries are terrifying. The cloning and experimentation and mind-control coding are reminiscent of the Third Reich. Yet it is not fast-paced; a lot of time is spent walking and thinking and planning and analyzing and navel-gazing, and slows the action. When the action does happen, it is vivid and descriptive, akin to taking a walk, with the occasional sprint here and there.
Bowman’s world building is without fault. Detailed and distinct, Claysoot, Taem, the Rebel HQ, Burg, every site is clearly imagined. Running through the forests, trekking the frozen plains, breathing in warm salt air, everything comes alive on the page.
While the third novel did a good job of wrapping everything up, I also felt a bit spoon-fed throughout. The reader does not need to know every detailed thought that goes into every decision. The ending feels too neat and tidy, the right people changed sides at just the right time, which does not add to the tension, but rather makes it seem forced.
Even though I do feel it could be a standalone, the series is an enjoyable, quick, read, with enough surprises to keep you on your toes throughout. There is rebellion and war going on, so expect some blood, but it works.
The Taken series is published by HarperTeen.