Who is the Pilot? (Reached review)

Reached by Ally Condie was a book that I felt I *should* read rather than I *wanted* to read.  I gave a fairly lukewarm review of the first two books in the series, Matched and Crossed.  But I am a completist, and I hate leaving books and series unfinished.  I requested Reached from my library as soon as it came out in November, and as the months passed waiting in line for it, I actually forgot I had done so, so little was my interest.

But after reading Reached, I feel comfortable recommending the series as a whole.  All three individual books left something to be desired, but I think together they have some very interesting ideas, and if you like dystopia and scifi and love triangles, they are worth a look.

Each book in the series has a slightly different setting and theme, looking at different aspects of dystopian society in a thoughtful way, less action-packed than other current YA selections.  The first book develops the idea of forbidden love in a rigidly controlled Society.  The second book has the characters fighting for love as well as survival in the real world outside of Society.

The third book is about a virus.  As in, a biological plague.

Yeah, not what I was expecting either.  As the Rising makes its move to liberate Society, it uses not brutal violence, but rather a tactic that will play upon the populace’s emotions: the rebels have helped introduce a plague, and then they will bring the cure.  The Rising will be welcomed with open arms.  But complications arise, and our three main characters have to step in to save the day.

The concept is interesting to me (and if it is to you also, I recommend another book about rebellion and plague warfare: the Star Wars X-Wing series by Michael Stackpole, specifically The Krytos Trap).  I liked that Reached added more scifi elements; the concept of the three colored tablets has always been one of my favorite things from the series.  And I feel that if I’d read this book 10-15 years ago, it would have gotten me intrigued about its biological concepts (like “mitochondria” did in A Wind in the Door).  But as an adult scientist, I sometimes felt like I was reading a (bad) primer on epidemiology and the scientific method.  There was too much science to overlook it as a mere plot point, but not enough to satisfy a biologist.

All the focus on the Rising and the plague leaves less time for the characters’ relationships.  I did not see any of the passion or even tension that characterized Matched and Crossed.  The love triangle even becomes a little perfunctory–which is fine by me, since I didn’t care for it in the first place.

What really kept me reading the book was the writing.  I would definitely be willing to try whatever Ally Condie comes out with next.  She has a lovely style that works well with a first person narrator; Cassia’s viewpoint is particularly strong in this regard, managing to be lyrical, intelligent, and relatable at the same time.  I loved Condie’s integration of poetry and art to support the book’s themes; like the characters, my exposure to such things at that age changed and expanded my worldview.  Xander’s perspective was also a nice addition, filling in a lot of missing info.

One of my favorite motifs of the book was the question of the Pilot’s identity.  There is a man who leads the Rising and calls himself the Pilot.  But is he really the Pilot or just a (really good) pilot?  Is there only one Pilot or many?  Or none?  This leads into some even bigger questions.  Should we always follow those who put themselves forward, or can we choose other leaders?  How do we decide when to lead and when to follow?  What qualities do we individually look for in role models and leaders?

As the conclusion of the series, Reached is solid overall.  It ties together plot points, characters, and themes from various books well, while still managing to save a few surprises for the end.  However, certain parts of the book’s resolution feel just a little too tidy: biologically (cure for the plague), politically (peaceful transition to new government) and personally (fourth side to the love triangle).  Yet it leaves us with the curious feeling, just at The Hunger Games did, that despite the revolution, not much will actually change.  After all, the Rising has now tried to play God, just as Society did.

Tl;dr: 3.5/5 More scifi, less romance, good writing, very tidy ending

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