Perfect Ruin is the promising first novel in the Internment Chronicles by Lauren DeStefano, author of the Chemical Garden trilogy.
In the first two chapters, readers learn a great deal about the world that Morgan Stockhour lives in. She lives in Internment which is a floating city in the sky. This city has no contact with the people on the ground. Internment is enclosed by trains which stop for 35 seconds to allow passengers on or off. Beyond the trains is a fence and then sky. Overhead is a dome of wind that prevents the clouds from passing directly over the city and also prevents anyone from jumping and falling to the ground.
Internment is ruled over by King Furlow, whose ancestor was chosen to hear from the god in the sky. King Furlow has two children, Princess Celeste and Prince Azure.
On Internment you can live your life however you want, be anything you want. However the people of Internment can never leave. and they are forbidden to go near the edge of the floating island. The population on Internment is strictly controlled due to the lack of land on the floating city. People are allowed to live until they are seventy-five at which time they must be "dispatched". Births are only allowed when a certain number of "dispatches" have occurred. People must queue to have children, so most begin to register for a birth when they are still in school.
Morgan lives in an apartment with her family which includes her mother and father. Her older brother Alexander (Lex) is twenty-four and lives with his wife, Alice, in the apartment above them. He used to work for a pharmaceutical company but when he tried to jump from Internment he was left blind. He now spends almost all of his time dictating his books into a transcriber and must attend special group therapy for "jumpers".
The novel opens with Morgan, along with her betrothed, Basil Cowl, and her best friend Margaret (Pen) Artmus taking the train home from the Academy where they attend school. It is the month of December when the festival of stars takes place. During the festival, people give gifts to one another in thanksgiving for having them in their lives. People write their request to the god above on a piece of paper which is then burned at the final gathering in the city, sending their requests skyward. Their train is delayed when there is an incident on the tracks. They learn later that evening from her father who is a patrolman, that a young girl was murdered and left on the tracks. The King orders everyone to stay in their apartments for the evening and in the morning tells the inhabitants of Internment that there will be extra patrolmen on the trains and in public places watching out for the killer.
After this, life on Internment gradually begins to unravel due to a series of incidents. Pen finds copies of an essay, Intangible Gods, posted in the washroom at the Academy. The essay was written by the murdered girl, Daphne Leander and contains blasphemous statements against Internment and the sky god. Several days later there is a fire at the flower shop in the city. Morgan also sees a young girl who looks remarkably like the murdered girl and whom she suspects is Daphne's younger sister on the trains. She learns later on that her name is Amy when she finds her posting extracts from Daphne Leander's essay on mirrors in the women's bathroom at the theater.
Daphne's murder is followed by the arrest of a suspect, Judas Hensley, who happens to be Daphne's betrothed. Shortly after his arrest, Judas manages to escape and is helped to hide by Morgan who is out walking near a cavern and encounters him fleeing from the patrolmen. Morgan continues to meet Judas at the cavern where he is hiding, bringing him food. The presence of Daphne's sister, Amy reinforces Morgan's belief that Judas is innocent. This is further supported by the fact that the news reports do not tell of Judas's escape.
A second murder occurs shortly afterwards causing even more panic and uncertainty in Internment. When After the second murder, Morgan goes to meet with one of the King's specialists, Ms. Harlan, and becomes deathly ill. Only the skill of her pharmacist brother Lex, saves her from certain death. Morgan learns she has been poisoned and that the medications that routinely come for Lex and Alice have also been poisoned. But it was too late for her parents, both of whom died from poisoning. Morgan has been taken to a special mechanical device, a metal bird, built by Amy and Daphne's grandfather, Professor Finnian Leander who holds the key to leaving Internment. Will they be able to attempt an escape with time running out?
Perfect Ruin is a sort of Wizard of Oz dystopia with a steampunk flavour that is definitely an intriguing read. The back story of Internment isn't provided in this novel, only that it once was on the ground, but the author provides significant detail about life on the floating city. How it came to be a floating city and why, DeStefano hasn't yet explained and hopefully will come out in the second novel.
DeStefano has created an interesting cast of characters in Perfect Ruin. The main character, Morgan, is a bold, inquisitive young woman who dreams of seeing the ground. She wants to actually visit the ground, rather than just look at it through a scope, despite knowing that this is forbidden. Her best friend, Pen is equally well cast and the dialogue between the two girls is well written and realistic.
Most of the supporting characters are not as well fleshed out, Basil Cowl, being the character best described. Lex and Alice are a tragic couple who exemplify most of what is wrong with life on Internment. Alice became pregnant when it was not her turn and her child was forcibly aborted. After this both were never the same again.
We also learn that Morgan's father is somewhat of a dissident on Internment. His work as a patrolman has led him to see things that cause him to no longer believe in their way of life on Internment. Lex soon discovers this for himself as a pharmacist, having been forced to give drugs to kill people.
The king's children, Princess Celeste and Prince Azure are bizarre, having lived a life of ease and isolation. Princess Celeste dominates her brother and similar to Morgan is keen to explore the world on the ground. Whether she is working for her father or is actually attempting to leave Internment to be free is uncertain at this point.
Overall this was a well paced novel which engages the reader from beginning to end. There are a few twists in the plot, especially near the end of the novel that make for a suspenseful ending. Perfect Ruin is a promising first novel in the Internment series.
A minor criticism is that readers don't learn the protagonist's first name until the end of chapter two which seemed rather odd.
While the cover of this novel is attractive, I much prefer the one above showing the floating island.
Perfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano
Toronto: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishers 2013