(review originally posted on my livejournal account: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com/24475.html)
I've never heard of Pearl North before, so when Libyrinth was selected as [info]calico_reaction's Dare for the month of October, I was intrigued, but I also had zero expectations; I had no idea what the book was about or even what genre it was (though from the cover, I had initially guessed Fantasy -- I was half right.) It really helped that this book was on sale at work for $7.99 for the hardcover, with a nice 30% discount on top of that. I could sate my curiosity while not feeling too guilty if I ended up not liking it.
I am happy to report however, that I *did* like this book. I liked it quite a lot actually.
The first thing that caught my attention with this book is introduced almost right off the bat: Haly's ability to hear books. She can touch their covers and hear their content, without actually having to crack it open and read it. THAT IS SO COOL. I loved that there was a section at the back of the book that told you where the quotes Haly hears randomly all come from.
The plot of the novel lives up to the potential of the premise itself, which is of course a huge relief. It's always a let-down when books have awesome premises, but the story itself can't deliver. This is definitely not the case here, as Haly and her kitchen-maid friend Clauda become embroiled in a crazy scheme that has huge ramifications. I was drawn into their stories, and they're both very strong and able heroines, making them very likable and thus easy to root for.
I think one of the areas where North really excelled in plot though was how she handled the animosity between the Singers and the Libyrarians. At the start of the novel, she paints a very stark picture of how the Singers are BAD because they BURN BOOKS GUYS. WHAT JERKS. And they torture Haly and Clauda pretty early on too. This so easily could have been a novel that had a very clear line between good and bad and for there to be no ifs, ands, or buts about it. But North takes a completely different directions and actually redeems the Singers, and takes away that initial vilification that was present at the beginning of the novel. She does this smoothly and the transition feels organic and never contrived.
The whole pitting of the Singers versus the Libyrarians was an interest choice, I found. The Singers obviously embrace oral tradition, even if they don't sing only fiction; they sing EVERYTHING they learn, and it's because it's in song that they're able to memorize it and learn it so well (I think.) Now, what I found interesting about all this is that, I'm an English Literature major, and when we learn about oral tradition, it's always taught in such a way that oral tradition is an obvious first step to eventually be able to read and write. Oral tradition and reading are very sympatico is what I'm trying to get at, so I thought it was kind of neat that North created a society that was divided this way and as such, pitted against each other.
The world-building in general was fantastic. I loved that each culture within the novel was very distinct in all kinds of different ways, from religion, to gender roles, and class hierarchies. Despite all being very different however, they had all had a unified feel to them; they all tied into each other well and felt like different parts to the same whole. I'm not sure how much sense I'm making, but I guess what I'm trying to say is that despite these cultures all being very different, they worked harmoniously together and didn't feel like disparate parts that North just clumped together.
I think one of the coolest things about this book, next to the world-building, was the genre (which ties into the world-building actually.) Like I mentioned above, when I first saw the cover for this book, I pegged it right away as a fantasy. For the first couple of chapters, I *still* pegged it as a fantasy, despite the presence of books from OUR world kicking around. It took me a bit to realize that this book is actually set in the faarrrr future, on another planet. There's also some crazy advanced technology kicking around, though it's fairly scarce. It still feels and reads like a fantasy though. I love blending those two genres together, because when it works, it works WELL and creates something that feels fresh and different (even though Science Fantasy fiction is not unheard of.)
Final Verdict: This is a really solid fantasy/science fiction (and yes, I did mean to put those two together, because this novel really does encompass both genres and makes them work harmoniously together.) It's a great plot, supported by equally great characters, which is further supported by a great premise (someone who can *hear* books). The world-building is phenomenal by presenting three very distinct cultures, and while one is painted to be the obvious villain at the start of the novel, it becomes more and more clear as the novel goes on that that really isn't the case. The organic development of the characters' relationship with the two other cultures they're not a part of was awesome to read, and the world-building itself felt equally organic -- very little (if any) info-dumping is to be found in this book. I highly recommend this book to fans of YA who like genre novels, and I can't wait to get my hands on the sequel The Boy From Ilysies.