My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Length: 402 pages
Release date: 4 January 2018
Violet and her friends love being part of the fandom for The Gallows Dance. But at Comic-Con, they’re somehow catapulted into the story itself – for real. Trapped in a twisted world where they’ve accidentally killed the original hero, Rose, there’s only one way to survive: Violet must fill Rose’s shoes and put the plot back on track. No story is worth dying for … is it?
“And yesterday I was in school, stressing over some stupid English presentation and wishing I were in another world. Be careful what you wish for, because sometimes the reality truly blows.”
What if you could actually live in Panem or Adarlan? The sensible reader would say no, but never underestimate the power of fandom, or alternatively, Rowan Whitethorn’s Abs. That’s the question that Anna Day’s The Fandom tries to answer, crafting a twisty story-within-a-story that never lets up with the pace. All the same, as ingenious an idea as the premise offers, I can’t help but get the feeling that The Fandom would land better were it published five years ago.
The caveat looming above all others is that this book is satire. A straight down the line, no holds barred parody of old-fashioned YA dystopia. Day’s speculative world is a generic mishmash of Les Mis, Red Queen and The Hunger Games, and takes pride in being the Totalitarian Boogeyman you’ve seen a hundred times. The author gleefully takes the trope to its logical extreme: a ruling class, a slave class, and nothing in between; a group of rebels with already established infrastructure that conveniently steps in to aid the heroes; instalove. Lots and lots of instalove, even in the supposedly subversive plot progression that rescues The Fandom from being full The Hunger Pains.
So what’s the issue here, you say? There’s a cliché not-Panem turned up to eleven, but that’s only a reference point which the story then utterly turns on its head, deconstructing your (least) favourite tropes one by one. In my view, the problem is that what this book is satirising doesn’t exist anymore. What I mean is, YA’s changed drastically. The closest major series you have these days to the black-and-white world of The Gallows Dance is Red Queen, and even that is nowhere near the linearity of its parody.
Now, YA dystopia (the traditional version of which has somewhat decreased in popularity anyway) is books like Renegades and This Savage Song, books that have far more nuance and cleverly avoid the tropes everyone loves to bash. Young Adult fiction in general may still place too much importance on romance depending on which camp you fall into, but in many/most novels romance neither compromises characters’ personal ideals nor turns them into Romeo and Juliet-style idiots. And there are more and more books like Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, Wintersong or Wonder Woman: Warbringer, just to name a few. Those girls are not letting lurrrve stand in their way.
All this is to say that The Fandom loses some of its bite in that it’s essentially satirising a straw man. Published in 2013, when the Hunger Games craze was at its peak, it would have been quite the timely challenge to the spate of Katniss wannabes. (Remember when people thought the Divergent movies were going to be the next big thing? Yeah, Pepperidge Farm remembers.)
Of course, The Fandom is still an entertaining, pacy thriller in its own right, one that doesn’t require too much mental engagement to digest. It’s the kind of book that I would put down every couple chapters only to pick it back up ten minutes later and read a few more pages. Occasionally, the main characters do veer into Too Stupid to Live territory–I really have to question their competence when they know the entire canon like the back of their hands and still manage to bungle simple tasks in feats of incredible genre-blindness.
Nate does a few seriously dumb things that involve speaking out of turn/disobeying orders, which would get him killed if not for Kevlar-grade plot armour. Alice is a walking Barbie (your average fanfic authors aren’t this deluded, I hope). Violet is impressively less worldly than her 14-year-old brother, also managing to make multiple reckless and/or dense choices. She’s somehow shocked by the fact that a horrible dystopian society is in fact horrible (wait, you mean to say that the Capitol actually kills people???). Katie’s ok, discounting the fact that she kind of screws them all over at the start.
There are lots of twists in this book. Lots of characters switch allegiances seemingly arbitrarily. I’m not totally convinced that certain characters who were really working for _____ all along would do the things that they do before and after the reveal. Other characters are redeemed or have their prior actions excused too easily.
Suspension of disbelief also takes a hit at the end when Day tries to explain everything through, well, “inter-dimensional quantum tunnelling”. What’s that? You don’t know? Yeah, neither do I. To be honest, I feel like “it’s magic” or even “it was all a hallucination” would have fit better, considering that how the characters get into The Gallows Dance is almost irrelevant next to the lessons that they learn while there.
The Fandom may be a silly, campy story with almost as many plot holes as the books it makes fun of, but it’s still fun and occasionally clever and, on the rare occasion, capable of surprising you. It probably won’t change the way you see YA dystopia, but if you’re in need of a new novel, it’s certainly worth a read.