If I told you in this moment that I’m the enemy—I will not save the day, I will not change the world for the better, that this is not what will happen—will you believe me?
I’ve already read about 50 books in 2018, and even with some amazing books among that number, The Raging Ones is one of the most unique young adult novels I’ve read so far this year. It’s got a combination of elements that might not seem like they’d add up to a book that really stands out: a central cast of scrappy characters in their late teens (two boys and one girl, in this case), a dystopian setting that incorporates a lifespan-based caste system, and a healthy dose of romance. What made it all special as a whole was in the how the authors used those things in engaging and expectation-defying ways.
Let’s back up a bit. The world of The Raging Ones is icy and forbidding. Readers get gradual reveals through dialogue and exposition that paint a picture of a harsh, cold landscape and of a society that mirrors it in cruelty. Everyone in Franny, Mykal, and Court’s world is born knowing the date they will die, even if they don’t know how.
Society is divided into castes according to how long people are projected to live, and the overarching culture has adjusted to assess a person’s worth and potential based on with group they belong to. Those who die before age 29 are called Fast-Trackers and are judged to be fit only for menial jobs with low wages. Babes die even younger, before age 13, but are generally treated as gently as children can be in this world. The upper-crust, who live anywhere from 30 to over 100, are called Influentials; they’re encouraged to do well-paid, white-collar work.
All three of the central characters have failed to die when they thought they would. They don’t know how or why, just that they have, and that it’s unprecedented and dangerous. To make things even more confusing for them, after their projected deathday has passed they become uncontrollably linked by their senses and emotions.
All of this makes for an interesting premise, but plenty of novels with cool set ups don’t provide a satisfying payoff. Thankfully, TRO’s set up pays off in spades. That’s largely thanks to the stellar central cast.
I wouldn’t ask for another day. I wouldn’t swap places with the banker.
I lived hard, fast and full, like a Fast-Tracker.
Oh, I loved Franny. While Mykal and Court won me over without difficulty, Franny grabbed my heart right from the start and never let go. She’s perfectly imperfect: brash, impulsive, and sometimes ferociously angry, but also inquisitive, clever, and devoted to her internal moral compass. She proudly wears her heart on her sleeve but also struggles with anxiety. She also provides an excellent point of view for readers as they enter this world; her experiences ground the narrative as it moves between hers, Mykal’s, and Court’s perspectives.
I can do many things: wear their clothes, speak their words, walk their pace, lift my chin and steady my gait—but for some gods-forsaken reason, I decide that I can’t do this. No matter how much I should.
Court took a little while longer to grow on me than Franny. As popular as the grim-and-stoic-guy type is in young adult fiction (and as much as I liked those characters when I was younger), I usually find those sorts of characters the hardest for me to enjoy reading about. Luckily, Court is developed past his stony exterior, and as more layers to him were revealed, I grew almost as attached to him as I was to Franny. He’s complicated and flawed, too: he’s proud and strong in a brittle, breakable way while he strives to hide a deep well of compassion.
I—Mykal Kickfall, the little no-good Babe—provided for a village. I had purpose when I was told I had none. Babes, we take up space. We eat your food. We drink your drink. And then we die.
I had reason to live.
Mykal, aka the Softest Strong Boy You Ever Did Meet, rounds out the central trio. Like Franny, he feels an intense need to prove himself; in his case, he keenly wants to support Court. Unlike Franny and Court, he feels even more like an outsider among society after being raised in the frozen wilderness. I don’t want to say too much else about him and get into spoiler territory, but suffice it to say that I want to give him a big ‘ole bear hug and make sure he’s safe and happy.
Why relationship and not relationships?
Well, because the dynamic between Franny, Mykal, and Court was something truly special. They all complement and contrast each other, of course, but the bond they forge is unique and well-developed. Even without any romance present (though I’ll get to that in a bit), I would read any future books with these characters just to see how they react and how they weather whatever storm they find themselves in (or create on their own).
Okay, the relationship
This book has a big romantic component, and guess what? It didn’t disappoint! When I initially read the synopsis of it, I was wondering if there would be a fraught love triangle with Franny at the center, but thankfully, the romance was handled thoughtfully and with grace.
The main romance is between Court and Mykal, and though it seems like Franny might have feelings other than platonic ones for the two of them, she’s really respectful of any spoken or unspoken boundaries between them. Plus, since the plot doesn’t ever get mired in will-they-won’t-they romantic subplots, she doesn’t ever really have the time to worry over it. (No spoiler tags, as the romance is present in like…the second chapter.) The Court and Mykal romance is really sweet and has the perfect amount of tension to it (thankfully caused by narrative reasons and not by societal or internalized homophobia). I loved how supportive they were of each other.
One tiny quibble I have (and this might just be caused by my fierce protective love for Franny) is that Court and Mykal are able to express their attraction to each other, while Franny feels unable to have physical affection with anyone (and it’s established that in the past she often coped with life, as many Fast-Trackers do, with sex and cuddling). I hope that, if she wants, Franny will be able to have her needs fulfilled in the future.
Okay, so far this review has been just one long stream of praise. Here’s where I bring up a few things that didn’t totally click for me.
This could have been caused by the major undertaking of introducing readers to this very alien setting with a complex set of rules that govern it, but I thought that the opening felt a bit disjointed and clunky. I settled into the rhythm of the novel at about one-third of the way in, but prior to that, I would run across sections that would make me skeptical about whether I’d end up enjoying it or not. I’m really glad I kept reading, because once it hits its stride, The Raging Ones far surpasses the expectations I’d had for it.
The plot is one of the main reasons I had so much trouble writing this review, actually. It’s a doozy, with twists I didn’t predict and an ending that left me bamboozled. If it hadn’t been pulled off with such verve and confidence, the plot would have likely felt contrived or clumsy. Luckily, the strong character-driven action and clear, accessible prose kept things feeling consistent even as the plot twisted and turned unpredictably.
Like I said above, the writing was clear and simple, and not in a bad way. It painted a vivid image of the events and characters without veering into flowery, overwrought prose. And the first-person present-tense narration actually grew on me, much to my surprise. It really worked with the tone of this story.
One thing I didn’t like as much about the writing ties in with the world-building. I found the slang, names, and some of the caste-related jargon to be a bit silly-sounding, especially at first. That’s not a problem unique to this novel; I think it’s often difficult to make young adult fantasy or scifi worlds’ lingo sound natural and not forced. I did get accustomed to reading it over time, thankfully.
This is an utterly unique take on young adult scifi that blends its combination of well-crafted setting, characters and plot into an edge-of-your-seat page-turner. Readers will fall in love with these characters, I hope, and be eager to see where these writers will take them. I have a feeling that the journey will be an epic one.
Thanks to Wednesday Books and Netgalley for the ARC. All quotes are taken from an advanced review copy and might be subject to change in the final published version.