PURCHASE:Amazon | Book Depository
Boy 23 isn't in My Place any more. He can't see The Screen, he can't hear The Voice. Boy 23 is alone. One dark night, Boy 23 is thrown in the back of the van and driven out of My Place - the only home he has ever known. He is abandoned in a forest with a rucksack containing the bare essentials for survival. Before the van drives away, a voice tells him he must run as far as he can. His life depends on it. Boy 23 has never known another human. Boy 23 has never even been outside. So who is he? Why do people want to kill him? And more to the point, who is the voice that wants to save him? A hugely fast-paced dystopian page-turner which by the end will leave you in a state of shock. For fans of Chaos Walking and Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror.
I approached Boy 23 with a lot of optimism. There was the gorgeous cover, the tagline promising it to be the next Chaos Walking (I freaking adore that series!), and I knew next to nothing about the plot (I love going into books blind). My feelings upon finishing this book were mixed, I liked it for the quick read it was – but I yearned for it to be more.
For a book about a mysterious boy on the run, Boy 23 is largely devoid of heart pumping action scenes or nail biting moments – at least until the last couple of chapters. I wanted more physical conflict, I wanted to see our protagonist struggle through the plot. Instead, I had every confidence that he would emerge from most of his dilemmas OK. A specific piece of information revealed later on in the novel dragged the stakes down even lower – how could I become truly invested in Boy 23’s journey if I know he would be fine? I am a bit of a literary masochist, I like to see my heroes backed into the corner (literally, if possible!). Unfortunately, the crucial element of danger was missing from the book. Boy 23 was sheltered in seclusion for most of his childhood – yet upon emerging from his walled room, he still did not get to experience much more, leaving me somewhat disappointed.
We spend the majority of the book privy to the thoughts of Jesper – the eponymous Boy 23 – and Carina. I felt I never really got to know them as people. Carina’s thoughts were often dark and angry, yet we remain mostly detached to her motivations and clueless to the source of her fury. While Jesper’s lack of personality could be attributed to his isolated upbringing – I had issues with his lack of agency and curiosity. Wouldn’t you be asking a million and one question if you were unceremoniously dumped into the world after years of solitude? Instead, Jesper remained largely driven by the schemes and machinations of others – whether it was orchestrated by the mysterious Voice, or some other organisation. Hopefully, they will both develop into more complex characters in future instalments of the series.
The character relationships also remain superficial and hollow. Their interactions only served to drive the plot forward. I want the characters to act human to each other, rather than tools of plot exposition or plot necessity. The Voice was present to help Jesper escape and help him out of tight spots – then turned into the ultimate source of info-dump towards the end. Carina flounders to find her purpose within the story, I’m not sure if she was present merely because they needed the token female – but I hope the plot finds her in the next book.
As this is the first book in a series, I am going to be generous on the worldbuilding. Post-apocalyptic landscapes are intriguing to my morbid mind by default – and I think this is the aspect of the story which holds infinite potential. By the time we meet Jesper, most of humanity have succumbed to an epidemic known as the Marsh Flu. Plot developments promises a compelling answer to why the disease proliferated. Again, I wish we got more. We are given a multitude of names and factions: New Dawn, Huber Corporation, St Jerome’s – yet none of these organisations are expanded upon. Even the by the end of the book, we are left with a lot more questions than answers – frustrating when you have invested 300+ pages into the question. The only answer we did get, was unfortunately so farfetched – my brain demands more explanation!
Boy 23 has an exciting premise and a promising start. Unfortunately, thin characterisation and world building prevented it from reaching its potential. The result is a decent, but rather unmemorable entry into a genre already filled to the brim with dystopia about lost children.
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