The lush city of Palmares Três shimmers with tech and tradition, with screaming gossip casters and practiced politicians. In the midst of this vibrant metropolis, June Costa creates art that’s sure to make her legendary. But her dreams of fame become something more when she meets Enki, the bold new Summer King. The whole city falls in love with him (including June’s best friend, Gil). But June sees more to Enki than amber eyes and a lethal samba. She sees a fellow artist.
Together, June and Enki will stage explosive, dramatic projects that Palmares Três will never forget. They will add fuel to a growing rebellion against the government’s strict limits on new tech. And June will fall deeply, unfortunately in love with Enki. Because like all Summer Kings before him, Enki is destined to die.
A bevy of ARC's landed on my doorstep in the past couple of weeks, with many I hadn't heard of previously, so there's been a bit of Ennie-Meanie-Mynnie-Moe going on every time I pick up a new book. So when last week I was looking for something a little different, I remembered that The Summer Prince had been blurbed by Scott Westerfeld and Tamora Pierce, and I decided it sounded strange but must have promise.
A one of a kind mix of dystopian and sci-fi, with religious overtones, describing this book would be like trying to describe a colour to someone who was born blind. Suffice it to say, the premise is complex but compelling and although you are tossed into the world with little preamble I never felt confused or lost. The set up was so smoothly executed I never felt I needed to wonder or question any of it, it just was. It's not until I started trying to tell people about this fantastic and unusual book I was reading, that it became clear how very complicated it was.
Besides having a lush and entirely unusual ambiance, there were a number of things I loved about The Summer Prince. For starters, although a Scholastic imprint (Arthur A. Levine Books) this is a very mature YA, with a lot of open, easy sexuality. Which is not to say it was raunchy, but only that sexuality is dealt with in the most accepting, and easy going way I've ever read. Johnson treated it as it should be, just the natural course of things, and not just heterosexuality. Although never directly discussed Palmares Três' matriarchal society is bisexual. Again, this is an element of the world that just is, and is never explained or discussed which I really loved. To discuss or explain it would make it a thing, and instead it's just incidental. I can't think of a healthier way to deal with sexuality, one where no shaming, commentary, biases, or politics are involved.
Imperfect, and down right primitive, the politics of Palmares Três are both sacrificial in election and matriarchal in government. This is one of the main issues Johnson deals with, is it justified, is it fair, or is it just as corrupt as the "normal" politics this system was set to avoid. The clever way she discusses this is by including small notes to June from Enki, with his thoughts, as well as through their discussions over the denouement of the story. I like that Enki, the sacrificial lamb of the current term, is pro their government, just not those who are involved in it, and that June sees the set up as antiquated. How that plays out over the course of the story is intriguing and leads to loads of unanswered questions which I adored. It left the reader with so much to think about.
Totally outside the political, sexual, and complex world building aspects, Johnson has filled the story with deep and relatable characters, sharing difficult relationships that were a joy to follow. This wasn't some staged love triangle, or run-of-the-mill teenage angst, right and wrong were shaded in many greys, and June's decisions were never easy or obvious. Her interactions with others wasn't selfless or heroic, and she made many mistakes, but where they lead her was interesting and enjoyable, but also thought provoking.
A YA story that deserves it's own category, The Summer Prince was a full experience to read, and I can't recommend it highly enough. Make sure to add it to your reading pile, it's not something you want to miss out on.
The Summer Prince, by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books, March 1st, 2013
My copy kindly provided by Scholastic