Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Reached by Ally Condie

This final novel in the Matched series by Ally Condie alternates between the narratives of Xander, Cassia, and Ky. Reached opens with Xander who is now an Official working in the physic division of the medical center for the Society. His job is to oversee aspects of the medical centers, including the Welcoming Day ceremonies in which new babies are named and inoculated. Still in love with Cassia, Xander hopes some day to make her fall in love with him. Xander along with two other Officials attend the Welcoming Ceremony in Camas City and administer a red pill which is a kind of inoculation against disease. Xander reveals that the Rising has been gradually substituting the red pills for their own, which not only make the children immune to disease but also to the red pills which the Society forces people to take when they don't want them to remember certain events. The pills also include some unknown ingredient as well.

When the older sibling of the child being named takes ill with the plague, Xander reveals that this is a sign that the Rising (or rebellion against the Society) is beginning. Xander is taken along with the family and his fellow Officials to a quarantine center where he begins working as a medic taking care of the sick. The plague manifests itself as a rash with the patient eventually going unconscious or "still". Xander isn't worried because he knows the Rising has a cure and that they boy will survive.

Meanwhile, Cassia has been sent by the Rising to work as a sorter in the capital of Central. She has been told to look for some unusual type of data and to sort it incorrectly. Cassia, who believes she is immune to the red pill, continues to rebel against the Society in her own personal way by trading poems and wearing a bright red dress under her official clothing. On the day she is supposed to meet Ky, Cassia is called into work unexpectedly to sort and that is when the data she has been waiting for appears. She sorts the data incorrectly as the Rising wanted her to, while expecting to be caught, but nothing happens. At the end of her work shift, all sorters in the facility are forced to take the red pill to lose their memories. Cassia discovers that she is not immune to the red pills and she cannot remember why she was at work that day. She wonders what she has lost both now and in the past.

Having missed her meeting with Ky, Cassia becomes involved with the Archivists who are trading in artifacts and relics from before The Society. Since the Society banned all forms of creativity, this is Cassia's main form of rebellion. Like her grandfather who saved poems, Cassia trades in poems and memorizes them. Eventually she starts a Gallery where people can post poems and artwork that they have created. Cassia continues to trade poems and other artifacts with the Archivists who have been preserving artifacts from the society that existed before the current one, while wondering how to find Ky and Xander.

Ky is situated in the Borders, in Camas, where he has been training as a pilot. Unexpectedly, he and Indie, along with all the other pilots, are ordered to fly missions. During the flight, the Pilot who is leader of the revolution, broadcasts to the rebels telling them that the Rising has begun with the onslaught of the plague in the Cities and the Boroughs throughout the Provinces. 

It just so happens that the Society created the plague in an attempt to poison the Enemy, which they ultimately destroyed. They never let the citizens of the Society know this and instead begin wiping out the Anomalies and Aberrations. Although the Society had a cure for the plague, they didn't have enough for a pandemic. Now the plague has sickened so many that the Match Banquets have collapsed, with sorters (such as Cassia) disrupting the creation of matches. The Rising must now step in, taking cures to people, and hoping to win them to their side.

However, as in any rebellion, just when the Rising seems to have won and has the upper hand, a mutation occurs in the virus, and a deadly form re-emerges to overwhelm both the Society and the Rising. Everyone who was immunized with the first version of the plague but was exposed to that version is immune to the mutation. This amounts to very few people. The race is now on to find a vaccine for the mutated form.

Indie comes to get Cassia from Central and take her to Camas City. There, Indie also brings Xander and eventually Ky on board. Once on the ship, they discover that the Pilot will be flying the three of them out of Camas City to the mountains. Xander is wanted by the Pilot to help with a cure and Indie is attempting to reunite Cassia and Ky so they can eventually flee to the Otherlands. The Pilot however, doesn't trust the three of them whom he claims have been behaving suspiciously and have been present when many suspicious events have occurred. During the flight to a village in the mountains, they discover that Cassia and Xander have the mark on their backs that means they are immune to the plague mutation but Ky does not.

The Pilot takes them to Endstone, the last in a line of stone villages to help him find a cure. Without a cure, the Rising will fail. The people in Endstone are Anomalies who are are immune to the plague but it is not known why. It is believed that some environmental or dietary factor is involved in their immunity. Those living in the villages have agreed to help the Pilot find a cure in exchange for being flown out to the Otherlands, where they believe they can live in peace and in freedom.

When Ky becomes "still", Xander and Cassia know their search for a cure has become much more personal. Xander works with Oker, an elderly man who escaped his Final Banquet at aged eighty and is now ninety years old. Oker is a researcher who discovered a cure for Alzheimer's Disease and who was partly responsible for creating the first plague virus. Because of this, he has a keen interest in stopping the mutant plague. The villagers distrust Xander and Cassia and have them locked in the prison when they are not working. Can they find a cure in time to save Ky and what remains of the Society? And with what is left, who will be in charge? Will they have the freedom to choose their own path in life? Will people be able to create, to heal and to lead?

Overall, Reached was a somewhat meandering and very lengthy conclusion to the series. It's always challenging telling a story with three narrators. With three voices the trick is to try to make each voice unique and Condie doesn't fully accomplish this. She does with Xander and Cassia, but Ky's voice just never quite evolves into something distinct. And Ky being removed from the narration part way through doesn't help either. The three narrators also makes it difficult for the reader to keep track of the complicated storyline, the vast number of locations,  and especially in the case of this third novel, the numerous details about almost every aspect of the story. Some of these details might have been better presented and developed in the weaker second novel. A good example of this is the back story to the Rising.

Much of the back story to the Rising and it's relation to the Society is revealed as well as the function of the coloured pills and how the Rising attempted to subvert their use by the Society. We learn more about the Pilot - the leader of the rebellion. For example, the Pilot was one of many in a long line of "pilots". Cassia's great-grandmother was a Pilot, leading her grandfather to naturally resist the status quo of the Society. The current Pilot was from Camas and was one of the pilots who flew people to the Otherlands - a place from which no one has ever returned. The Pilot would run people who wanted to escape the Society out to the last stone village. Unfortunately, we never learn who the Pilot is or what happens to him - a major disappointment since this enigmatic character piques our interest throughout the other novels!

We also never find out who ends up controlling the new order; the Anomalies represented by Anna, the Society, or the Rising. All we end up knowing is that the people are allowed a vote on who will govern them.

The best book was Matched, which promised an interesting look into a world where everything was decided for the individual from birth to death and where creativity was completely prohibited - to the point where citizens weren't even taught to write.   Reached attempted to explore some of these themes through Cassia's narrative but never fully succeeded. Many of the themes like the right to self expression, the right to life, the right to be the master of one's destiny, and the right to choose a life partner got lost in the details of the world and the large list of characters.

Condie did do a great job though of exploring the idea of creativity and how its loss had affected the people of the Society. Cassia at first believes that trading is the way to that expression of creativity but she eventually realizes that the creative process involves sharing and giving. It's another way of communicating ourselves to others.
"I realize all over again, that we don't need to trade our art -- we could give, or share. Someone could bring a poem, someone else a painting. Even if we took nothing away, we would all have more, having looked on something beautiful or heard something true."
Reached was predictable, especially with regards to the love triangle. Condie set up an interesting love triangle in which forbidden love played a major part. The tension that existed between Xander and Ky was largely diffused as a result of the plague - unfortunate because it played such a large part of the first novel. Instead the third novel focused on the race for a cure and perhaps would have been more aptly titled, Plague.

Because Condie's world in the Matched trilogy was so complex, a map showing the cities, the Boroughs, the Provinces, the Outer Provinces, the location of the stone villages, the Otherlands, the Carving and the Enemy territory would have been very helpful to the reader. These maps could have been developed and added to with novel. It would have been nice to see a copy of the map that Cassia saw in Oria, in Matched. A list of characters would  have been useful too.

Book Details:
Reached by Ally Condie
New York: Dutton Books 2012
512 pp.

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