Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Level 2, by Lenore Appelhans- Review

From Goodreads:
'I pause to look around the hive - all the podlike chambers are lit up as the drones shoot up on memories ... I've wanted to get out of here before, but now the tight quarters start to choke me. There has to be more to death than this.'

Felicia Ward is dead. Trapped in a stark white afterlife limbo, she spends endless days replaying memories, of her family, friends, boyfriend ... and of the guy who broke her heart. The guy who has just broken into Level 2 to find her.

Felicia learns that a rebellion is brewing, and it seems she is the key. Suspended between heaven and earth, she must make a choice. Between two worlds, two lives and two loves

When I started blogging three years ago, Lenores blog, Presenting Lenore was one of the first I started following.  I appreciated her fair reviews, and I was a fan of her dystopian highlight months and Tuesdays full of cat photos.  So it was with great joy that I heard she had sold her first book and from the moment she announced it I looked forward to reading it.

So color me shocked when I didn't take to it at all.  Honestly.  She had Thea and Ana from Book Smugglers as some of her Beta readers.  How was it possible that this wasn't a tight, fast paced, top of the line dystopian from the blogger who put dystopian on the map?  Between well read critics and someone who has read the gambit of dystopian YA, I'm baffled how Level 2 came to be, in it's present form.

I had several issues with the story.  For starters, Level 2 is described as white and monotone in every way possible.  The people in the hives have shaved heads, no eyebrows, wear all white, and loose all interest in anything but their memories and those of others, so bland would be a good sweeping term to use.  However, Felicia and the fellow hive mates she's managed to sort of befriend, Virginia and Becca, should really sparkle against this background, but they don't.  Because of the pretext of the world building (their inability to hold thoughts or stay out of their memory chambers for any real length of time), Appelhans hamstrings herself from developing these three girls sufficiently to have the reader care about them to any degree.  Once Felicia is able to leave her hive and begin to operate somewhat beyond her memories the impetus is for her to head back and "rescue" her friends, but because they were unable to establish much in the way of character or personality in the beginning I just couldn't bring myself to care about what happened to them.  I hardly need to describe how that kills the tension.

Obviously memories play a large part to this story, and Appelhans uses the past to present and back again story structure nicely.  Though I also felt she didn't adequately use it to build possible tension between Felicia's life and her time in Level 2.  Too much time was spent on memories of quiet relationship development with Neil (earth boyfriend), or with religious introspection, and therefore the tension that should have been obvious with Julian in Level 2 just wasn't there for me.  Instead their relationship seems awkward, and slightly creepy.  At no point did I get the love triangle vibe from the book blurb, Julian never presented as anything then some creepy guy from her past.  Certainly the memories and how they play out about Julian, did nothing to change that for me.

The thing that really confused the story for me was the religious aspect.  Granted any book dealing with the after life will obviously be dealing with religion to some degree, but Appelhans has Felicia grappling with it much more in her life than in her afterlife oddly enough.  Talk of God, good and evil and all it's implications are very limited in Level 2, whereas in Felicia's memories with Neil it takes center stage and indeed is the center of many of their relationship discussions.  Neil is a good Christian boy, he plays in the church "band", he's an active leader of the youth group, he's signed a decree of abstinence until marriage, he is religious with a capital R.  Felicia is not. Although Felicia toys with the notion she's not "good enough" for Neil, she's obviously unconcerned about it as it comes up in a couple of her memories that Neil is having conflict in the church because of his relationship with her and in fact, is loosing some of his status.  She even goes so far as to get naked while he's sleeping at one point, waking him up by making out with him, even though he has clearly told her he is not going to have sex before marriage and that this is important to him.  Felicia's blatant lack of regard for Neils faith really soured me on her, if she loves him the way she claims, she should respect his faith if not try to understand it more fully herself.  I also eventually became disenchanted with Neil for the same reasons, is he so fickle he's willing to give up a faith he obviously believes in strongly because of a pretty girl?  What else has Felicia brought to the table?

It's seems appropriate that I issue a small disclaimer here.  I am most definitely not religious in any kind of way, but I have had some very close friends growing up who were extremely faithful.  I checked out their youth groups on occasion and I saw how their relationship's worked, faith at that level, is so integral to someones personality that it would really go against their grain to end up with someone who isn't at least willing to give it a chance. 

My final beef with the story was that it just wasn't a tight plot.  The big reveal about Julian was anticlimactic, the big reveal about "that time in Nairobi" was also anticlimactic as well as just plain confusing, how the Morati functioned and their rebellion was also unclear.  I'll reserve judgment on some of this, it's entirely possible that there are better and more plentiful explanations in Level 3, but every books should be able to stand on it's own two feet, series or no, and as it stands Level 2 seemed like it was missing finesse.

In the end it was a disappointing read where I couldn't relate to the characters and didn't find myself sucked into the action, I felt as if I'd been stuck in the monotonous level 2 and was being told this story by a monotone drone who was putting me to sleep.  Before buying it yourself, make sure you read the first 11 chapters over on goodreads, it should be more than enough to tell you if you'll be as put off as I was.

Level 2, by Lenore Appelhans
Published by Simon and Schuster, January 15th, 2013
Buy Level 2 on Amazon

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