I am not the biggest reader of dystopian novels, or at least, pure dystopian. It’s been a hot minute since I’ve read anything in the genre mainly because I haven’t seen a lot of exciting things done in it. But, behold! Allow me to introduce you to “Reactive” and Tatum City! The world our MC, Lune, occupies has been destroyed—nuclear fallout is kind of what is alluded to but I'm not sure. Strange beasts roam the wilds, and safety can only be found in the walled cities. But some cities are far from safe. Lune is kidnapped from her loving mother, and given to the leader of Tatum City where she is constantly beaten, as everyone around her tries to break her spirit. But that never stops Lune from going for the one thing she wants more than anything else: to be reunited with her mother who she hasn’t seen for 11 years. The only way to do that is to win the three deadly Trials. Winning just one Trial means you get the right to have a better job, and additional benefits for your family, but winning all three means you are given a boon of your choosing, and Lune would do anything to win and choose her freedom. Well, almost anything.
Here’s the thing, if you really liked the Hunger Games or even Divergent (I’ll confess, I didn’t love Divergent), this is going to be 100% your jam. There are so many flavors of the Hunger Games in Moynihan’s book with the deadly game-like atmosphere of the Trials, the brutality of the cities ruler, the fact that almost everyone who competes is pretty much a kid, the societal structure... I know that can really throw off some people to have those similarities, but I found there to be enough difference where it didn’t bother me. Like, for instance, the amazing carnivorous Chargers!—they’re essentially horses, but they eat meat and their hair is razor sharp. How cool is that? Plus the sarcastic, sometimes dry, humor that Lune and Bren—our leading man—have is a lot of fun. Bren and Lune’s romance can feel a little insta-love at times, especially given Bren’s history, but Bren is such a delicious cinnamon roll that it’s easy to be swept away by his devotion to Lune and how he always supports her goals.
That was another thing I liked a lot: how Lune needs Bren in so, so many ways. He’s just as formidable of a force as she is, which adds a lot of wonderful tension and complications as both Lune and Bren try to achieve the same goal. There’s a lot of mystery around why Bren is in the city, and why he can’t talk about it, that is really intriguing, too. Unfortunately it doesn’t really get settled in this installment of the trilogy, but it was a fascinating development when it did get cleared up a tiny little bit.
I guess that’s my one issue with the story. I am a sucker for the elaborate world building you find in fantasies. The world building in “Reactive” is fine, it’s pretty on course with what you’d expect in a dystopian because the primary focus is on the action—which is portrayed really well, I might add, it’s a serious page turner when Lune and Bren start the Trials! But I never had a clear picture of what Tatum City looked like, or how it was physically laid out with the different Trail courses, where the village was, and therefore how big it was. There was also a fair amount of little secrets that are hinted at but aren’t necessarily answered—like how Lune developed a very specific phobia, why books are banned but there’s a lot of high tech defenses, or WHY her “father” wanted her to begin with. Which is good for the most part! Most of them make me excited for the next book, but I feel like I needed a little bit more explored so I could get a better sense of the characters and the challenges they’d have to face outside of the Trials. I needed a bit more as to why Bren was in Tatum City to begin with in order for me to 100% believe that Lune 1. Forgave him and 2. Genuinely cared for him given his past. It would have helped me understand why Bren was so taken with Lune from the get go when she’s pretty mean to him early on (for good reason, but still). But a lot of that is forgiven with HOW this first book ended. I can’t say more because of spoilers, but oh my stars!
Lune is a damaged, flawed character, and I love that. She wants to be seen as strong, and fiercely independent, but in many ways she’s still just that scared little girl who was ripped away from her mother. It was an interesting contrast that made for very real character development. The book ends with some seriously high stakes that Lune is going to be facing in the sequel (out now, thank goodness!) and I am DYING to know what will happen next for Iris, and what complication the mysterious Ryker may pose to Lune and Bren—I’m honestly really drawn to Ryker, I don’t even know why but I feel like it’s going to destroy me. This is a wonderful debut from a very talented writer and a solid 4 star read! I can’t wait to see what happens next in the trilogy!
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