Friday, 25 July 2014

Reviewed by Arianne: The Neptune Conspiracy by Polly Holyoke.


Product details:
Publisher: Puffin.
Paperback, 352 pages.
Release date: June 5th 2014.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Ages: 8+
Source: Received from publisher for review.
Reviewed by: Arianne.

Nere has always felt at home in the sea. But she never imagined she'd have to leave the land behind forever, until she finds out she's part of the NEPTUNE CONSPIRACY. She has been adapted to survive underwater.

Under the careful watch of Dai, Nere is chosen to lead a group of kids across miles of treacherous ocean.

Her survival skills will be put to the ultimate test. Guided by their faithful dolphin pod, Nere and her companions face the ocean's deadliest creatures. And close behind the government's savage dive team are determined to capture them, dead or alive...


If there’s one thing I have to talk about when it comes to The Neptune Conspiracy, it’s the world-building, because it is fantastic. Not only is it well-drawn, it’s perfect for an adventure. There’s also a really strong, original sci-fi twist which makes the book stand out: the fact that it’s based on the consequences of climate change makes it even more engaging. It’s all too easy to see how the world of The Neptune Conspiracy could become a reality. The damage caused to the planet by humanity is a very present threat and Holyoke doesn’t hold back on the detail of how exactly that might affect us in the future. Throw in an authoritarian society and almost constant danger, and you’ve got perfect conditions for a story.

Nere is an ordinary teenage girl with some extraordinary abilities. She may talk about having ‘weak lungs’ but she can communicate telepathically with creatures of the sea – namely dolphins. What’s more, the vents of The Neptune Conspiracy see her discover that her parents altered some of her genes so she can live underwater. The creation of a new undersea civilization appears to be the only option for Nere – and other genetically modified Neptune kids – and others who wish to escape the Western Collective and live in peace. Nere’s underwater journey could probably be best described as ‘finding her feet’ – or should that be sea-legs? – as she starts out with little confidence and low self-esteem, but this story sees her become braver and more resourceful than ever before.

The dolphins were one of my favourite elements of the book. Conservation is another of The Neptune Conspiracy’s themes and while the dolphins in this book may seem tame because of their telepathic connection with Nere, but they’re also wild animals and that’s made apparent as the conflict and adventure unfolds. The dolphin’s voices are written with stilted grammar and little punctuation – I’m still debating over whether that was necessary or not – but each dolphin character, particularly matriarch Mariah, has a strong bond with Nere and a very important role in the novel. Holyoke doesn’t try to make them human; she simply tries to make them feel real.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have as much of a connection with some of the other characters. They tended to feel flat and blur together; it was hard to tell them apart, even as fight scenes and the struggle to survive took centre stage in this exciting tale. This a book where research and evident knowledge are essential to the story but sometimes the facts and figures overwhelmed the characters. The dialogue wasn’t up to scratch and there were just too many discrepancies in the characterisation for me to warm to any of the protagonists.

For me, The Neptune Conspiracy is an ideal upper middle grade read. There’s practically no romance and for all its violence, it’s almost innocent in a way. It’s more about the journey than the destination, with no real showdown to finish. It deals with serious issues but the writing style is straightforward and clear. The main character is a teenager, but only just. The book wraps up quickly but there will be a sequel - titled The Neptune Challenge – so you can expect to see Nere do even more growing up in the second book and maybe even beyond.

In short: a solid start to a great new series with a fantastic premise and brilliant world-building, The Neptune Conspiracy suffers when it comes to characters and emotion, but is a novel clearly born from a love for the sea. Occasionally disappointing but highly recommended for upper-level readers of middle-grade fiction.




--Arianne.

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