Atlantia

Sorry for the delay in posting this one. I’m currently studying for an exam so please note that my reviews may be a bit sporadic over the next month or so. All being well, normal service should resume at the start of July…

Atlantia was written by Ally Condie and first published in 2014. It is a dystopian science fiction story set in a world where people have been forced to retreat to an undersea city. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to have read any of the author’s earlier work to fully appreciate it.

When the air grew too polluted to breathe, people were forced to make a terrible sacrifice. Some chose to remain above, working hard and dying young. This ensured that their loved ones had all they needed to survive below. Atlantia – the underwater city – is beautiful and those who live there know they are blessed. Yet still some from every generation must still choose to travel to the surface to ensure that Atlantia can continue to be.

Rio has dreamed of being the one to make the sacrifice. Atlantia has always felt too claustrophobic for her and she longs to see real trees. However, when her sister Bay chooses to go above, Rio realises that she will never get her chance. One member of each bloodline must always remain below. Not only has Bay doomed Rio to a life under the sea with no explanation, but she has also left her all alone.

Yet Rio will not accept her fate and begins to desperately search for a way to get to the surface. Yet she soon discovers that she must hurry. Something is going wrong with Atlantia and if she does not leave soon, she may not get another chance. To make matters worse, she has a terrible secret. She is a Siren – one blessed with the ability to control others with their voice – and there are certainly those who would use this to their advantage…

Atlantia is a difficult novel for me to review as I really did want to like it. One of the first things to strike me about the story was just how beautifully written it was. The prose is haunting and lyrical, quick to set the scene and introduce the two core mysteries that fuel the story – why Bay has abandoned Rio and who was responsible for their mother’s sudden death. Yet the evocative prose was not enough to hide the fact that the story had many problems.

My first real issue with Atlantia was the way that it was marketed. Based on the blurb and cover, I must admit that I was not expecting for it to be science fiction. Even the novel’s tagline – Human voices wake us, and we drown – made me think that this was going to be a story about mermaids. While I personally found this to be a pleasant surprise, I do think that this might disappoint readers who are expecting a fantasy story (and potentially put off readers who are just totally unaware of what it actually is). While the existence of the Sirens does add a supernatural element to the proceedings, Atlantia is really a dystopian novel at its core. There is nothing magical about Atlantia itself and most of the people who live their are normal, air-breathing humans. In fact, the thing it reminded me of most was Rapture – the underwater city in the Bioshock video games – as it carried that same feel of a paradise slipping into decay.

The concept seemed rather original at a glance and, for the first hundred pages, I was absolutely hooked. I wanted to learn more about Rio’s world and found the hanging questions to be utterly tantalising. Unfortunately, the few answers that we did get were very unsatisfying. We never truly get a feel for what it is like to live in Atlantia or how the city functions. Although its people are deeply spiritual and forced to follow strict laws, there is no real explanation of how this all came to be. It does not feel as though Atlantia has existed for many generations and even Rio is aware that their pantheon of Gods are a relatively new creation. I presume that the only real reason why everyone seems to have bought into this regime is due to the Sirens.

The Sirens present another problem, as its never truly explained how their power works. While this ability should be terrifying, we never really see it used to its full effect. When Rio harnesses her ability, it does not seem that different from just speaking normally and it is not explained how both she and Maire can use speech to influence inanimate objects. In fact, the lack of explanation is probably the story’s biggest issue as there is very little by way of descriptive text. I never got a feel for exactly what Atlantia looked like. There aren’t even really any descriptions of the protagonists.

These problems only intensified as the story progressed. The plot is incredibly slow and virtually all action – even an incident that resulted in the death of hundreds – occurs off page. While some mysteries were eventually addressed, their resolution just felt shallow and lacking in nuance. It felt to me as though the novel was trying too hard to seem clever, while most of its twists were actually fairly mundane and easy to see coming. This was disappointing, as much of the novel seemed to be building up to a climax that never really came. There isn’t even any real explanation given for the villain’s actions and their defeat came at virtually no cost. The ending just felt too rushed, lacking in closure and not even taking time to reveal the villain’s fate or what ultimately became of Atlantia.

In terms of characterisation, I did like Rio. Although her internal monologue could be repetitive, she was a strong character and her often melancholic narrative really did make you feel the depths of her depression. However, no other character received the same treatment. Bay, Maire and True were all very flat protagonists, possessing no notable characteristics beyond the fact that the cared about Rio’s wellbeing.

Even the villain failed to make much of an impression on me. While their identity is incredibly easy to guess, they never seemed to do much that was villainous and their weak plan left me scratching my head. I’m not going to spoil it for you here, but I will just say that I am not really sure how they even thought that it was going to work. There was far too much that could have – and ultimately did – go wrong.

I think I’ve probably said enough. All in all, I was left very disappointed by Atlantia. While the evocative prose and setting was quick to draw me in, the novel was unfortunately unable to sustain my interest once I began to notice the weaknesses in its world-building, pacing and characters. Sadly, it’s not a novel that I would recommend, even if you are a fan of the genre.

Atlantia can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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