The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann
The Unwanteds, book one in a new dystopian fantasy series by Lisa McMann (yes, the same Lisa McMann that wrote the amazing Wake series), contains an enchanting, beautiful world of art and magic that is unfortunately only accessed via a death sentence from a horrid dystopic society. Twins Alex and Aaron are divided on Purge day in the land of Quill, when Alex is identified as an Unwanted, or a creative (and therefore useless) citizen, and sentenced to death. Aaron, on the other hand, is a smart and strong Wanted, so he’ll go to Wanted University and study to be part of the Quillitary.
But when Alex and the other Unwanteds arrive at Quill’s Death Farm, they discover it is actually a hidden magical world called Artime, run by Marcus Today, a mage who hides and trains creative outcasts to hone their artistic skills and to learn defensive and offensive magic.
The whimsical atmosphere in Artime coupled with the severe, ruthless monotony of Quill make for a striking world that becomes quickly and utterly absorbing. The idea of using soliloquies, painting, and music as weapons is frankly awesome, and in battle, it does not escape the reader that these weapons tend to hit their mark just as surely as the other side’s guns and brute force do, but without killing and maiming. I could seriously use some 3D paint in my life.
For much of the book, you see Alex, Laini, Samheed, and Megan adjusting to their new life and powers in Quill. By the time the inevitable battle comes you are very invested in the characters, and the plot really picks up. I love the way Alex and Aaron played against each other, and the mysterious storylines that weaved together artfully by the book’s end. It ends on a somewhat ambiguous but hopeful note; however given some characters’ inclinations, I doubt we’ve heard the last from them.
You hear a lot of people claiming a book is “the next Harry Potter” or “the next Hunger Games,” I mean, that’s practically as commonplace as saying a book is fantasy or dystopian. But when the notoriously cranky Kirkus calls a book “Harry Potter meets the Hunger Games,” it’s hard not to turn your head. I’m so glad I did when I heard that phrase uttered about The Unwanteds. Is it too much to live up to? Of course! Also, this book is more in the age-range of Harry Potter’s first couple books than The Hunger Games (which is very violent and aimed at older YA readers). But when you get over the hyperbole of the statement, it makes sense. Younger readers who are fans of either series will definitely find something to enjoy here.