“Sometimes you can’t speak, not because others won’t let you, but because you are afraid of what you’ll say. You can’t trust your voice. You can’t trust yourself. You stay silent and contained for your own protection.”
Ever since reading the Matched trilogy a year and a half ago I have been anxious to read Atlantia, a stand-alone novel by the same author, Allie Condie. I am not a huge fan of dystopian books. However, I liked Matched because it was partly an ekphrasis on certain pieces of art and poetry and a powerful essay about free will. Atlantia is not an ekphrasis but uses the story elements to make its own profound statements about identity and sacrifice.
Twin Sisters Bay and Rio live in a dystopian world split between the Above and the underwater city of Atlantia. When Bay chooses to go above, Rio becomes desperate to find her own way to follow her and end their separation. Atlantia itself is a city of interesting divisions, between the common people and the priestly caste, between the magnificent temple and the shady deepmarket with its illegal races and gambling. It is to the latter that Rio is drawn to see if she can earn enough money to buy her own air tank. Her allies include True, a deepmarket craftsman, and Maire, her mysterious aunt. In order to get what she wants, Rio must confront her abilities as a siren, an individual with a voice that can exert control over other people.
While still dystopian with sci-fi elements, the sirens and their abilities are part of a unique magic system that Condie touches on in the novel and that make the work more intriguing. This dystopia also has a polytheistic religion with gods that take different shapes Above and Below. Of course, the characters come to question this part of their society but they don’t blatantly set out to change this aspect or anything else. There are similar aspects in this dystopia to the one in the Matched trilogy, but for the most part it is very different and Condie doesn't dwell on these aspects. Atlantia is also a little bit more action-packed than the Matched books.
|A sketch I made of one of the book's most interesting motifs|
Most of the characters are either flat or have subtle complexity, with the notable exception being Maire. Like the heroine, we are always second-guessing Maire’s motives, and in spite of our better judgment we are curious about her. The romantic relationship with True takes a backseat to the central storyline rather than being the focus, as was the case in the Matched books. A bit of a spoiler here, Rio does reunite with Bay eventually, but by the time this happens Rio seems to have come into her own individual identity. Bay also proves to be an interesting heroine in her own right. (Maybe if there was a sequel in the works it could be from Bay's perspective? Just a thought. I'm not sure how this story could go further.)
Allie Condie doesn’t focus on the dismantling of governments in her work period. In Atlantia, the story is not about the revolution but the individual trying to escape the system and find resolution within it, which makes it a refreshing read. Atlantia is a stunning work of art.