Review: Dualed by Elsie Chapman

Dualed
Elsie Chapman

Random House Books for Young Readers
Releases February 26, 2013
304 pages
YA / Sci-Fi / Dystopia

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You or your Alt? Only one will survive.

The city of Kersh is a safe haven, but the price of safety is high. Everyone has a genetic Alternate—a twin raised by another family—and citizens must prove their worth by eliminating their Alts before their twentieth birthday. Survival means advanced schooling, a good job, marriage—life.

Fifteen-year-old West Grayer has trained as a fighter, preparing for the day when her assignment arrives and she will have one month to hunt down and kill her Alt. But then a tragic misstep shakes West’s confidence. Stricken with grief and guilt, she’s no longer certain that she’s the best version of herself, the version worthy of a future. If she is to have any chance of winning, she must stop running not only from her Alt, but also from love . . . though both have the power to destroy her.

Elsie Chapman's suspenseful YA debut weaves unexpected romance into a novel full of fast-paced action and thought-provoking philosophy. When the story ends, discussions will begin about this future society where every adult is a murderer and every child knows there is another out there who just might be better.

With the background of some giant war forcing a large city on the west coast of Canada/United States to build walls to protect its citizens, Dualed plays out like a weird sort of The Hunger Games meets an ineffectual Hanna. While there are several mentions to the war raging outside the walls of Kersh and how that has caused the government to create the Alternate program, it’s mostly background noise to the story of a 15-year-old girl pushed into becoming an assassin for the wealthy while also playing a game of cat and mouse with her clone.

The ideas behind Dualed aren’t new, but the combination of them and the execution make this an intriguing story with emotion and action blended together seamlessly. Kersh is a walled city run by an organization that claims the walls are there for the citizens protection. The faceless leaders of this city have created the Alternate program to train their citizens to be the best soldiers, creating genetic duplicated of each baby born, pushing them to different parents in different parts of the city, and then set the clones on each other at a random time between the ages of 10 and 20. One clone rises victorious and have therefore proven themselves to be effective soldiers in case Kersh is every pulled into the faceless, meaningless war outside the city’s borders.

West is broken and lost. She grew up in a fairly large family, but is now the last one standing as her siblings and parents die one by one, some to their Alts, others to side effects of the Alternate program. All that’s left is her empty home, her older brother’s best friend Chord and the impending doom of her own Alternate assignment looming on the horizon. She’s too young to receive weapons training at school and has no money for private training, so she convinces the leader of the strikers to contract her out as an assassin-for-hire, hoping that by killing other Alternates for cash, she’ll be prepared for her own assignment when it comes.

Meanwhile Chord is sticking to the promise he made to West’s brother before he died – to not let West spiral and push everything away. The relationship between Chord and West is a highlight of the book because it reads as so very real. There’s the pain of uncertainty; attempts to hurt one another to protect the other; and a developing love that is far deeper than most you find in YA, one based on knowing each other inside and out. Chord doesn’t have a lot of characterization outside of being very tech-savvy, loyal and protective, but this also isn’t his story.

Chapman manages to create vulnerability within West that is sad without damaging her ability to be a strong character. Jumping directly into the role of assassin comes a bit out of nowhere and could afford a little more setup, but the conflict it causes within her head – killing people she doesn’t know, cheating the system and delaying the inevitable – makes her relatable despite her extreme circumstances. She seems much older, but in a world where you’re expected to kill someone with your face, I would imagine you’d grow up more quickly.

There are a few time jumps between chapters that jarred me a little, mostly because they were unexpected and it took me a few pages to clearly realize that West has been running around as a striker for much longer than she had been a page or two before. Other than that the pacing is steady, something exciting happening to pull me back in right as I might have zoned out from West’s self-doubt and depression. I loved the final confrontation between West and her nameless clone, how she clearly recognizes her mistakes as she makes them and knowing that it just might turn out the way I’d been expecting all this time.

I would have liked more of a character in West’s Alt – a name, a background beyond the contents of her room, a personality. It would have added an extra layer to the cat-and-mouse game being played throughout the city and the inevitable conclusion more powerful. I also expected Dualed to get a bit more political with more secrets of the governmental body leaking out and leading to the seeds of a rebellion. I imagine that’s the direction the series will be going in – I mean, how could it not? – but this first book gives no real building blocks.

This could very much be a standalone, though the world is primed for a continuation. An exploration of the world outside the walls would be an interesting change to a future storyline and the previously mentioned rebellion seems inevitable. Chapman has a captivating way of writing that created a pulse pounding story with equally compelling emotion and action. The world she created has the feel of being much bigger and I look forward to seeing how she expands it in the future installments.

 

I received an advance copy of this book through the Around the World ARC tour in return for an honest review. This book will soon be passed on to the next in line.