WarningMight contain spoilers.

I started reading it before Percy Jackson and the Olympians, but had to pause midway because it was too sombre for my state at the time. I continued when I was able. On the whole, the themes and the message of the book are very important and relevant to the modern world, but the storytelling is mediocre and indistinct.

The plot is naturally very grim. The torture is no doubt realistic, and all the harder to read about for it. On the other hand, it was interesting to see the discussions of and debates over technology I’m used to hearing every day. (Incidentally, it’s convenient how the reporter Marcus goes to is not just technologically savvy like he expected but quite an expert in the same issues.)

Marcus’s voice makes for an unfortunate contrast with Percy Jackson’s. It feels inauthentic and forced: very much the writing of a grown man attempting and failing to recapture adolescence. Much of the book is taken up with exposition—that is, the parts that aren’t a little too interested in wish fulfillment and the sex lives of teenagers, the two very much going together here. Marcus is proud of having kissed three girls so far; Ange (whose very first appearance marks her as important) can’t wait to sleep with him from the moment she meets him; and of course Vanessa, who primarily exists to be a vague object of lust who can ‘plant kisses’ on Marcus, ultimately confesses her feelings for him as well. I half expected Ange to be a mole because of how easily their relationship progresses, but her only purpose is to provide the girlfriend Marcus desires.

There are moments where the antagonists of the story, such as the substitute teacher and the unmistakably evil Charles, repeat fair and popular arguments against privacy and unfettered freedom. It made me wonder whether they would suddenly be portrayed as reasonable, but while that would be more interesting, it apparently wouldn’t fit the narrative. Only Marcus’s father comes close to endorsing surveillance while still being sympathetic, and he stops supporting the regime just as abruptly as he begins. Perhaps a better, more persuasive Little Brother would have been able to convey its message without needing to rely solely on irredeemable villains with unconscionable methods.