Paperback, 336 pages.
Release date: November 6th 2014.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Source: Received from publisher for review.
Reviewed by: Arianne.
Can you hear Atlantia breathing?
For as long as she can remember, Rio has dreamt of the sand and sky Above—of life beyond her underwater city of Atlantia. But in a single moment, all her plans for the future are thwarted when her twin sister, Bay, makes an unexpected decision, stranding Rio Below. Alone, ripped away from the last person who knew Rio’s true self—and the powerful siren voice she has long hidden—she has nothing left to lose.
Guided by a dangerous and unlikely mentor, Rio formulates a plan that leads to increasingly treacherous questions about her mother’s death, her own destiny, and the complex system constructed to govern the divide between land and sea. Her life and her city depend on Rio to listen to the voices of the past and to speak long-hidden truths.
Atlantia may sound like your everyday run-of-the-mill mermaid dystopian, but in reality, it’s a richly painted and enjoyable adventure, highly recommended for those just starting to read YA.
I’ll admit I didn’t like Ally Condie’s Matched. The world of the trilogy felt too clean and crisp, with a romance so flat it was practically non-existent – it lacked flair as well as heart and soul. However, if there’s one thing I learned from this standalone, it’s that a good story will always win the reader over.
Here, Ally Condie’s writing style has a fairy tale-like flow to it, with descriptions that illustrate every aspect of Atlantia beautifully. The city is a character in itself and I adored the detail of it – the metallic trees that needed constant repair, the mysterious sky-blue bats flapping miraculously overhead, the evolution of magic in a race once on the brink of destroying an entire planet.
Atlantia is narrated by Rio, a young citizen (alas, not an actual mermaid, though she possesses some very cool and very spoilery skills) of an underwater realm built to keep its inhabitants safe from the toxic wasteland Above. A few humans still work the land Above in order to provide for those Below, but it’s a short, hard life, full of suffering and toil. All residents of Atlantia are given the opportunity choose that life, but not many do. Rio, however, has always dreamed of seeing stars, of real trees and earth beneath her feet in place of metal and miles of ocean crushing in around her. When her chance to escape is suddenly snatched away from her, she’s devastated – and very, very alone.
Rio's isolation is something that features throughout the book - especially as the secondary characters just don't make as much of an impression as they should. Aside from feeling out of place in Atlantia, I never really understood why Rio wanted to go Above – Condie’s explanation rings quite literally of ‘the grass is always greener’, or words to that effect – but a little suspension of disbelief can go a long way when it comes to making the most of a book like this. Religion plays quite a large role in the novel, as Atlantia’s polytheistic faith has a profound impact on Rio’s life. Interesting parallels are drawn with real-world religion and ritual which makes the book stand out, though it does result in the plot regularly being sidelined in favour or exposition and contemplation. That aside, however, it is a tremendously fun book – light, short and sweet. The pages positively fly by, and I really did enjoy the story – but it could have been so much more.
I started reading Atlantia for the story, but I stayed for True Beck. Loyal, kind and highly talented – particularly as an inventor – he shows Rio that there’s still someone on her side after all this time. I loved the romance between True and Rio, and best of all, there’s no unnecessary love triangle! Unfortunately, Condie’s old habit of planting the romance firmly in upper middle grade fiction territory reared its ugly head again as the book went on and I felt Rio and True weren’t given enough free reign to show off their undeniable chemistry.
And that, I think, is the fundamental issue with Atlantia: it’s too safe. There’s no danger, no risk, no emotional rollercoaster that has you investing everything you have in the characters and the story. Simply put, this is a book that holds back. As readers, we’re permanently on the back foot, since while there are plenty of twists and turns (some of them are even surprising) Rio always seems to be the last one to know everything. It’s the kind of book that makes you think “If only.” If only it were darker. If only it were riskier. If only it were more complicated. If only there’d be another viewpoint to bring more action and more drama. If only Ally Condie could stop underestimating her readers and really dare to write a book that stays with you long after you’ve finished reading.
In short: Atlantia surprised me in many ways – particularly with its fantastic flow and style, its original world building and its beautiful descriptions. It’s City of Ember meets Hans Christian Andersen; high tech meets lyrical prose. It’s a little too safe and neat at times, but I enjoyed the story, so it gets 4 stars from me.