Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Review: Switch by Janelle Stalder

3 stars

Maybe it's my secret desire for a catastrophic event that mysteriously wipes out people who can't queue, but I've developed some strange need for dystopic romances during these last few weeks of travel. Switch by Janelle Stalder was my most recent indulgence, read while navigating the Peruvian rail system. It was a mixed bag (Switch, that is; the Peruvian trains have actually been very nice), but it was intriguing enough overall that I instantly downloaded the sequel, despite having the wave my Kindle around to get the necessary bars of 3G. 

Switch take place in 2035, after some guy called Ludwig has taken over the world (or at least Europe). Mind-reading Charlotte-slash-Dinah is drawn into the politics of it all at sixteen, when her house is raided on the suspicion that her father is involved in the resistance movement. She accidentally lets Ludwig's second in command know about the whole being able to hear thoughts thing, and when we flash forward a few years, she's become the autocrat's mysterious and feared 'Weapon X'. 

Ludwig sends Dinah to spy on a rebel faction, because we know that always works out a treat. Sure enough, she meets Pete McKay, a rebel leader with secrets. Pete was a decent hero, but it was hard for me to get past the most overdone Cockney accent since Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. Seriously, the guy referred to everyone - even his brothers - as 'mate'. 

But back to the storyline. Or the would-be storyline, since the constant changes between four different narrators mean it's not apparent that Dinah and Pete are the protagonists for the first third of the book. Neither was this slow start filled in by detailed world-building; I still have no clue how or why Ludwig decided to take over the world, for example. 

If it's becoming clear that I have a bee in my bonnet about this whole world domination thing, it not just because it was all very flimsy.  It really pissed me off that, in the absence of any overt motive for Ludwig or any explanations of his ethnic or national affiliations, London had been renamed 'New Berlin'. Because using Germans as inexplicable and one-dimensional villians is not at all a lazy trope-tastic cop-out! I hope that Ludwig will be fleshed out in the second book, which features the other two narrators from Switch, who actually captured my interest more than Dinah and Pete. 

However, I was drawn into the book as it gained momentum, and it ultimately found its feet in the moral ambiguities of the second half. Ironically, however, the reason I liked it is also the reason I come down so harshly on Ludwig as a villian; his charisma was supposed to contribute to the moral confusion of it all, but in the absence of detail, it actually detracted from it.

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