Sunday, April 13, 2008

Truancy: Final Review

Raven concludes her review of Truancy by Isamu Fukui.

* * *

Now that I've finished Truancy, I have to say I hesitate to recommend it 100%. I still love the setting, this dystopian society centered around an oppressive school system (what can I say, I hated school). I was impressed with the characterization (with one exception), and I particularly liked the characters of Umasi, a pacifist who refuses to side with either the Truants or the Educators, and Zyid, leader of the student rebellion known as the Truancy. I thought they were masterfully portrayed as individuals with deeply-held beliefs, and their relationship with one another was also very well done. I liked that Isamu Fukui didn't hold back with these characters but put them in situations where their beliefs would be tested.

The story remained simple, but as I mentioned before, there were many facets to each side in the overall struggle between Truants and Educators. Neither side was portrayed as all bad or all good, although the Truants were clearly better than the Educators. But on both sides everyone had his or her own agenda, which sometimes clashed with the larger agenda. Fukui switches point of view a lot, taking readers into the heads of people on both sides (and into Umasi's head as well), so we get a rounded picture of all the action and what everyone is doing. The political and personal aspects of the story were nicely intertwined.

For most of the time I was reading the book, I was prepared to give it a solid recommendation. Granted, there were a few weak spots here and there. Fukui's narrative style includes a lot of varied dialogue tags (observed, agreed, declared) and a lot of adverbs. What I found was that during the tense moments these didn't bother me because I was so focused on the story, but during scenes with less conflict they tended to stand out and sound awkward. And certain scenes involving Tack (the main character) and his sister came across as overly peaceful and conflict-free (I don't want to say boring, because they weren't, but they were a little too rosy). However, I eventually realized what these scenes had been setting up, so I was prepared to forgive Fukui for including them.

Another thing I was prepared to forgive was the somewhat flat main character. Tack has great motivations for everything he does, and he's a good person who wants to do what's right even if he sometimes fails to do so, but ultimately he didn't quite click as a character. He was less interesting than Umasi, Zyid, or even the Mayor of the City.

But even this wouldn't have stopped me from giving Truancy a wholehearted recommendation. What changed my mind was the ending, which I found dissatisfying. Although Tack's plotline was resolved, Fukui left dangling several fascinating mysteries about Umasi and Zyid. Considering these characters' central role in the story and the way information about them had been steadily doled out as the story progressed, I felt Fukui had created an expectation that these mysteries would be resolved by the end. When they weren't, I felt cheated, especially because they had been a large part of what kept me turning the pages. It's also difficult to fully understand the story's world and these characters' motivations without knowing their complete history. A prequel called Truancy Origins will be coming out and should answer these questions, but I couldn't see any reason for Fukui not to resolve them in this book (incidentally, Fukui also has a third book planned; this information is on the Truancy website at www.thetruancy.com).

Besides this, the pacing in the last two chapters seemed to be off, and the focus shifted from the political story to one specific personal story instead of keeping them intertwined and balanced as Fukui had successfully done until then. Twenty-five pages were devoted to resolving one key relationship, and although it was an important one, I felt the other aspects of the story suffered as a result. The tone also changed, becoming more sentimental. Finally, Fukui seemed to be straining to make the point that violence isn't the answer. That conclusion didn't feel completely organic to the plot.

My ultimate verdict? I really enjoyed this book up until the last two chapters. I'll be reading Truancy Origins when it comes out. But I still have reservations about Truancy based on the ending. You've been warned.

15 comments:

FantasyFish said...

Raven,

What a well written insightful review! The most of the points you made make sense. I thought the last fighting scene was too long, and while he was having fun writing it, Fukui lost the focus on the other important aspects of the story. I felt that his anti-violence massage was rather added as after thought or even as an excuse. But the relationship between Tack and his sister Susie was, I thought, written beautifully and I liked it. Regarding the mysteries about not only Umashi, Zyid and the Mayor, but also the City itself, I felt cheated just as you did when I finished reading. But then I learned about the prequel. If, by not giving us readers their complete history, Fukui intended to create fascination and greater expectations for his next book, I hate to admit, but he succeeded with me. All the while I was reading, I kept wondering if it were true that Fukui wrote this novel when he was FITEEN!!??

Raven said...

Thanks, FantasyFish! :)

I see you and I agree on pretty much everything except Suzie. I know what Fukui was setting up with the Tack/Suzie relationship, but it just didn't work for me completely.

As far as leading into the next book, Fukui succeeded with me too, because I have to get my questions answered! I'm not always a fan of prequels, but I'm intending to read this one.

He's obviously a talented writer. I didn't go easy on him because of his age, either. :) It will be interesting to see how his career develops.

Robert said...

Great review! I look forward to reading this, although the concept sounds a little like "Little Brother" which is another YA novel published by Tor. Hmmm...

Raven said...

Thanks! I haven't heard of Little Brother. What's its concept?

Tia Nevitt said...

I thought Raven did a particularly good job writing this review. She built up the suspense about what didn't work for her until I just about couldn't stand it. I think I learned a lot about how I can improve my own reviews!

I also find it interesting that she intends to read the additional titles. That means, like it or not, the novel worked for her. Kind of reminds me of my own feelings for the novel I reviewed over the weekend.

If she does read the other titles, I hope she wants to write a follow-up review here!

Raven said...

*blushes*

Thanks, Tia! I'm definitely up for doing follow-up reviews of the other titles when they come out.

Kimber An said...

Yeah, but...books in a series tend to leave plot threads dangling to be wrapped up in future books. Was the main plot of this book resolved in a satisfying way? If so, a few mysteries wouldn't have made me feel cheated. It would make me want to read the next book. What say you?

Raven said...

Kimber, the main plot with Tack, the main character, was pretty much satisfactorily resolved, although as I mentioned in the review the pacing and focus seemed to be off in the last two chapters.

I know books in a series leave plot threads dangling, but the structure of this book and the pace of revelation had really led me to believe these particular plot threads would be wrapped up in this particular book. Everything was coming to a climax, and then the book took a left turn, shifted focus to one specific relationship, and copped out (I felt) by having one character say he wanted the past to stay secret, and Fukui left it at that. I really wanted to see the big showdown among three different parties with intertwined pasts. I felt the book had been hinting at this and leading up to it, and then it wasn't there.

CaroleMcDonnell said...

Oh gee! I've seen series like this ...where the book didn't really end but was merely left off. I remember coming to the last ten pages or so of The Mirror of Her dreams and realizing the story wasn't going to end... I was soo annoyed. I didn't buy the second part and I'm not sure if the third part was ever written. One of the dangers of these dangling endings.

It's sooo hard to write connected novels and to make the first (or second) book feel like a story in and of itself. I'm cool with this, though. You've made the book sound really good. He's a kid and what 17+ year old could write such a story? So I'll give the kid a chance to grow. Rome -- and other CITies-- weren't built in a day. Thanks. -C

Sara J. said...

I always find it frustrating when there's an abrupt change near the end of the book with tone or pacing, especially when the ending doesn't work. You build up your hopes for a whizz-bang, and get a dud instead!

Nice review :)

Raven said...

Carole, yes, I totally agree about time to grow. And endings are tough. I may have been a little hard on him about the ending only because the rest of the book was so good! If it had all been terrible, I wouldn't have cared if the ending disappointed me.

Sara, thanks! And yeah, the change at the end made me sad.

FantasyFish said...

Raven,

To write a good prequel is always very difficult because the result is there to begin with. It tends to become boring explanation. A few years has past since Fukui wrote TRUANCY, and I am curious to see how he has matured. Still it's not an easy job to create an prequel with same intensity as the first one. We'll see.

Raven said...

FantasyFish, I definitely agree with you. Many times a prequel is just backstory. Like you say, it's not as intense as the original because we already know where it's going, and it's just giving us information we didn't need to enjoy the original, so it becomes boring. I felt this way about the Star Wars prequels. Nothing in them was vital or important. Everything we needed to know about the past was already in the original three Star Wars movies.

I'm still going to read Fukui's prequel, and I hope he pulls it off. I'm interested to see how he's matured, too.

FantasyFish said...

Raven, I agree with you 100% on The Star Wars. I'll definitely read Fukui's prequel, and I am hoping he will pull it off also. There is no doubt Fukui is an exceptional talent. Your writing made me curious about your book. Will it be finished soon?

Raven said...

FantasyFish, I expected it to be done by now, but the revisions are taking me forever! Oh well, I guess that's how I make it the best it can be. Over the next few months I'm planning to tighten up the story (again) and change the setting from a fantasy world to an alternate world closer to ours. I'm hoping the book will be ready to market by fall, but I'm probably being optimistic.

Thanks for asking! It makes me happy to know somebody's interested. :)