You're still skeptical, right? I mean, the first sentence is "My life is just about perfect." That's a little barf-inducing. That was my thought too, so I don't begrudge you this suspicion. I worried at first because it did seem like what I expected: a selfish, naive heroine and a cheesy setup for a romance. I mentally prepared myself for the imminent headdesk that didn't come. I promise you that there's a reason that Evelyn acts the way she does in the beginning, and that reason is dark and shiver-inducing.
What's funny is that for the first couple of chapters this book is straight-up The Little Mermaid. I could think of nothing else at first, and it still makes me laugh. Evelyn likes to spend a lot of time in her garden, the privileged favorite of Mother, the leader of the people. Evelyn, though mostly a good daughter, is a little forgetful, a little disobedient. More obviously, Evelyn gets into trouble for collecting a coin from the surface, since, you know, they live in a community under the sea and aren't supposed to be interested in those on the surface. Mother's wrath reminded me heavily of Triton's when Ariel was all obsessed with the Eric statue and saved the real Eric and everything (though his anger pales in comparison to Mother's when the surface dweller Gavin appears, though that's a topic for later). Anyway, this concludes my discussion of The Little Mermaid.
Things quickly take a turn for the much less Disney, however. Enjoy the lava-shiny happy bits while they last, because it's pretty much going to be a mindfuck for the rest of the journey. As I've mentioned Mother is one scary bitch. She reminds me a bit of Eldest from Across the Universe for those of you who are familiar with that: willing to do anything to make sure her utopia remains just that. She has some serious control issues. Perhaps, though, you need a concrete example of just how horrifyingly awful and terrifying she is to believe my assessment. Well, I'll do you one better: I'll give you two examples.
1. Mother has created her idea of the perfect society in her underwater paradise. Elysium is entirely self-sufficient, can produce all of its food, technology and materials right there, with no need to go to the violent, war-torn surface. They are safe and happy. Every single person in Elysium is also blonde-haired and blue-eyed. Yeah, if taking a page out of Hitler's book doesn't have you fetching a straitjacket to stuff Mother into, then I think you probably need to go get some more education.
2. Even more horrific, since Mother could perhaps have just collected good Aryan stock to bring down with her and not created her society of people with what she believes to be perfect genetics through genocide, are the Enforcers. Every society needs police, of course, because accidents happen and people aren't perfect. Mother's Enforcers, though, are all women, taken from their parents at the age of three to be molded into the perfect killing machines.
Yeah, so this one definitely is not in the camp of fluffy books packaged as dystopias as an effort to make more money. It IS a dystopia. Hurrah! I really appreciated Souders' world building and writing, which worked really well with the story she's telling. I also thought the snippets of the society's governing tenants and documents were used to great effect at the beginning of each chapter.
The only weak point for me at all was in the characterization. Of course, this is largely intentional, I think, though I cannot explain precisely why without spoiling something I want to leave completely new to you. I think she gets the narration exactly right for what she's doing, but Evelyn is a little hard to feel with as a result. I will say thought that Evelyn will probably surprise you. She grows and changes constantly as the book progresses; like the ocean, she has hidden depths. Because we get everything through Evelyn's lens, however, the other characters do not coalesce into anything tangible.
More troubling is the instalove. Yes, I know, I hear you crying. While not ideal, I do think the instalove here is less obnoxious than most because of the circumstances they're in and because the society does not exist solely to keep them apart. The romance is there, but it's not the central struggle of the book.
Renegade is jam-packed with action and will totally mess with your head. There are a lot of dissapointing dystopias out there, as happens in any absurdly popular genre, but this one rocks and is definitely worth a read for dystopian fans. I am so excited to find out what will happen in the next book, because the story could go so many places right now and that's just fabulous!