Fiona doesn’t remember going to sleep. But when she opens her eyes, she discovers her entire world has been altered—her house is abandoned and broken, and the entire neighborhood is barren and dead. Even stranger is the tattoo on her right hand—a black oval with five marks on either side—that she doesn’t remember getting but somehow knows she must cover at any cost. She’s right.
Those bearing the tattoo have turned into mindless, violent beasts that roam the streets and sewers, preying upon the unbranded while a select few live protected inside a fortress-like wall, their lives devoted to rebuilding society and killing all who bear the mark.
Now Fiona has awakened branded, alone—and on the wrong side of the wall.
The world has crumbled, and our main character, Fiona, doesn’t know why. She only remembers being 13-years-old, but when she looks around she realizes no one has lived in her house in years and that her reflection looks much easier than it should be. Eventually, she learns there was a bee flu and deadly bees and a bad vaccine and all sorts of things, and that this has pretty much led to a downfall of society as far as she knows it.
Well, first of all, there is almost no world-building in Stung. We get a little background on Fiona’s life. Everything the reader gets to learn about the world in Stung comes from ONE televised interview that takes up two pages at most. It’s basic, but I will say that at least this part makes sense. It turns out the vaccine has turned many children into beasts–an unfortunate side effect–that can’t talk and don’t act like humans at all. The more doses a child has, the more beast-like and un-human they are. Fiona is a level 10, and shouldn’t be as human as she is. That’s the main mystery in the second half of the book, and by far the best part about Stung. Other than this minor world-building, though, there are still so many questions left.
For one, there’s a large human trafficking ring because if a trafficker brings in a certain number of marked beasts or children, they’re paid in ounces of honey, which has become a most precious commodity. My question–WHY? The bees have gone extinct, so honey is valuable. Okay, that sort of makes sense. BUT many other plants and animals have gone extinct and have to be artificially grown. Since those would actually have some sort of nutritional and filling value, WHY is honey the most precious resource? You would think people might be able to sell it for money, but I don’t know because Stung never addresses this question.
Towards the end of the book, there’s another case of logic I could not buy. Fiona has been given the vaccine for the bee flu for ten months–several years ago–when she was thirteen. The same vaccine that makes people beast apparently has healing qualities when taken in small doses, and so Fiona is instructed to. . . KISS someone to transfer trace amounts of the vaccine to him. Or so says the doctor:
" You still carry trace amounts of the vaccine. It has certain advantages in very small doses, certain healing properties.” Doctor Grayson calmly explains. “If you can pass more of them on to Dreyden. . .
Okay, I do not claim to know much about science. But I have trouble buying the minute traces of the vaccine left over from five years ago can be passed on by kissing would actually help someone who was gravely injured. This type of logic comes up time and time again in Stung, from the way Fiona tries to pass for a boy to how the major world-building issues are addressed.
Speaking of Fiona. . . why is she the main character? Oh right, because of something that happens to her. That’s another theme that comes up again and again. Fiona may be one of the most passive characters I’ve ever read. I seriously cannot think of a main character who actually had less of an outcome on the plot than Fiona. The one thing she does that really affects ANYTHING–besides just existing–makes everything worse in a big way. And the thing is, I can’t tell you anything about Fiona. She is a part of the story the plot happens to, and not a person who happens. She has no defining traits except she used to play piano. Is she friendly? Angry? tired? Caring? Ambitious? Daring? No clue. No personality.
The only thing I know about Fiona is that she has the ability to fall in love within a day. She walks into a militia camp, recognizes someone from home, and falls in love. It’s insta-love on both sides, but at least in Dreyden/Bowen’s case, he nursed a crush on Fiona throughout her entire childhood. Which doesn’t make the insta-love okay, but at least more understandable. Fiona seems to just fall in love–or decide she’s in love–because he’s something from her old life. And once they’re together, it becomes mostly about their relationship, which I can’t buy because of the sexism and other problematic elements.
Dreyden’s/Bowen’s nickname for Fiona? Fotard. It was a way to pick on Fiona as children and then becomes a pet name. It’s never said, but I can only assume that Fotard is Fiona+retard. Is there really any other childhood insult? This is problematic and honestly, completely unnecessary. That entire problematic element could have just been deleted from the book. It’s small, but irksome. That, however, is nothing compared to the sexism.
Men now outnumber women seven to one, which apparently means that all men are now incapable of looking at a woman without 1)raping her, 2)Selling her to gangs that will rape or trade her, or 3)Taking her for a bride to repopulate society. This is problematic in itself, with the idea that this would just be what happens in a post-apocalyptic world, but fine, I’ll buy into the idea it’s dangerous to be a woman. What really highlights the sexism, though, is Dreyden/Bowen. Since he’s the love interest, he’s clearly not like the other men. He’ll protect Fiona and would never hurt her(supposedly). This is great, right? Well, it would be, and it seems to be, until things like this happen(Fiona has just put on a dress since they’re hiding in an abandon hotel after cleaning up):
“Fo, you’re not safe from me. I’m sorry. It’s just, if I let my guard drop, even for a second. . .” His cheeks flush bright pink and he takes a deep breath. “I won’t be able to keep my hands off you.”
Sorry, you’ve just lost any sympathy as the love interest right there. This isn’t a one-time thing throughout the book. The romance in Stung is incredibly unhealthy because it is not between equals. Time and time again, Dreyden/Bowen orders Fiona around and she just takes it, without ever questioning anything. I definitely understand why a militia guard would fall into the role of giving orders in high-pressure crises, but this happens even in the quiet moments, when Dreyden and Fiona are just talking or hiding. This is another order he gives Fiona soon after he tells–not asks–tells–her to change out of the dress.
You always have my gun with you. And you always keep one bullet in the magazine. If you get caught, you use it. On yourself. Can you agree to that?”
Look, the world of Stung is obviously dangerous. And while I don’t really take issue with Dreyden giving Fiona the gun in case she decides that death is better than whatever fate, that should be her choice. But because Dreyden can’t handle the thought, he tries to take the choice out of Fiona’s hands. While this isn’t the only time her orders her about, it’s the time I felt really showcased just how demanding he was.
Later on, a doctor talks to Dreyden and Fiona and talks about Dreyden’s psych evaluation:
Based on your psych analysis, you have a soft spot for helping women.
On it’s on, this sentence wouldn’t be a big deal. But based on the fact this comes after Dreyden has said all that other stuff, it makes me shudder. Helping other people, sure. But helping women, even though you tell Fiona you can’t control yourself around her when she’s wearing a dress? Dreyden is one of those characters who thinks he’s being better than all the other men in the book while still enabling the sexism himself.
Stung had a good premise, but other than that, the story was just too problematic for me to ever invest. The overt sexism and insta-love puts this on the list of my least favorite books I’ve ever read.
Enter the plot complications. Fiona meets someone that saves her life, but asks a high payment for those gallant efforts. In an attempt to pay back her savior, Fiona finds herself in a very bad situation. Things seem pretty bad, and they are-- until Bowen recognizes her. Now that made an interesting addition to the story.
I read somewhere that this was a loose retelling of Sleeping Beauty. I’m not sure I see too many similarities between the two, so I would not venture to make that comparison on my own. I did enjoy the story and the setting. It was pretty intense. There are these zombie-like animals/people infested with some vaccine gone bad that are ripping people apart. Pretty terrifying. Not to mention the whole black market aspect of the story and what they want to do with these “beasts”. You can imagine.
I think what I did enjoy the most what the subtle way the story unfolded. You get a lot of action in the present, but Fiona is clueless. She has no memory of her past beyond her 13th birthday (and she seems to be about 17 now). As events occur, little pieces of her memory come back until you get a huge realization during the final climatic scene.
I thought the story was pretty solid, until the final page. That was a bit annoying for me and very predictable. I understand what it was meant to do, since it will obviously be what the next book focuses on, but I found the delivery a bit immature and quick.
Overall, I enjoyed Stung. I will probably read the remainder of the series as it becomes available from my library. This wasn’t one that I would pre-order or stand in line for, but a good summer read.