A power-hungry government controls the populace through music, and one young woman accepts the formidable task of saving her family and helping to kick-start a revolution in this dystopian YA adventure.
Hanson’s debut novel, the first in a planned trilogy, takes place in the walled-off, steampunk city of Revinia, where all the inhabitants have devices called Singers implanted in their ears at birth. The machines ensure obedience to Revinia’s ruler, The Conductor, by transmitting a form of mental and emotional control called The Music. The heroine, Ronja, has been branded a Mutt, the lowest rung on the social ladder. She works as a driver on the underground train system, struggling to keep her ailing mother and two young cousins afloat. Destiny comes calling when she accepts a courier’s job, delivering a mysterious package to a member of an underground enclave of freedom fighters known as The Anthem. Among them, she learns, “Everything you have ever felt besides strict loyalty—love of a partner, hate of an enemy, terror, excitement, anxiety—all are muted by The Music. Every time your passions spike, they are beat down. You have lived your life shackled to a weightless iron ball.” Freed from her Singer, Ronja joins forces with Roark, one of the leaders of the Resistance, to convince her family to join the group and thwart The Conductor’s plan to unleash an even more crippling form of The Music upon the citizens of Revinia. The central premise of music as a mechanism of control works well here, and the plot moves at a snappy pace, introducing distinctive new characters nimbly throughout while adding shades of detail to more familiar ones. Ronja’s journey to adapt to a life as a rebel fighter while negotiating the repressed memories that emerge following the removal of her Singer is captivating and memorable. Although the protagonist’s evolution from guttersnipe to superhero in the novel’s last quarter feels like quite a sudden leap, it makes for supremely fun reading.
While it fails to reinvent the genre, this action-packed ride through a grim but fascinating world should delight fans of The Hunger Games and Divergent and leave many waiting impatiently for the sequel.