Wow. Just wow. And also, thank heavens!
It is rare for YA novels to deal so directly and so successfully with feminist issues, and this one does it brilliantly. Girls who pick this terrific novel up will be looking for their usual dystopian fare, and they will certainly get it in spadefuls: danger, excitement, adventure, overcoming the odds, romance, racing hearts and some fantastic surprises about who can be trusted and who can't.
But they will also get something different. They will find a heroine who refuses to be controlled by the rather sexy-sounding chaps that she seems to have at her beck and call. But this is no Lara Croft, ridiculous male-fantasy game. Oh no. Girls who read this novel will be exposed to some challenging stuff about women's place in society, and how all regimes, whether religious or political, have oppressed women since the dawn of time. We see girls being judged on their appearance, girls' fertility being surgically controlled (when it would be biologically simpler to control the fertility of men), girls in a servile role, girls being punished for their sexual desires, and older women thoroughly damaged and screwed up by all of the above. "Women are being punished," one female character says (delightfully, a character that thus far we had been led to believe had little to say for herself). And I cheered for the sheer joy and rarity of our youngsters being exposed to this. There is even a character called Eve with a painful story! I love it! Dalton has shown striking skill in exposing young people to these ideas in an accessible and exciting way. Like the best books that educate, they won't even know it's happening.
Even more so, and it is essential to point this out, the male role models are sound. Hoo-bloody-rah! How sick I am of the supposedly-devastatingly-attractive (bleurgh), controlling, manipulative, misogynistic and downright whining "heroes" that young girls (and, unbelievably, adult women) are exposed to in modern novels. Quite frankly, if we can't move on from the disturbing fantasies of 19th and early 20th century novels now we're well into the 21st century, then I despair for humanity. But in Dalton's novel the wonderful Daniel is flawed, vulnerable, and supportive when he can be; he cares fiercely for our heroine, but does not wish to control her. Hallelujah. Sebastian is further flawed, not least through biological interference, and we see him learning that it's not acceptable to control women, (and, by the by, that it's not acceptable to hit them). Revelation? I hope not. But rare to see in novels. I salute Dalton's male characters not only because they are better role-models for young girls to be lusting after, but also because I am heartily sick of young boys getting such a bad press; the world is changing, and Dalton seems to be one of the few authors that understand that.
When I finished the novel this morning, my overwhelming emotion was, "YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!" I also found myself wondering whether girls who enjoy this will go on to read Maragret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" when they are ready.
And as for the planned sequels, all I have to say to Dalton is, "you go, girl! I can't wait."