YA Weekend: Glitter by Aprilynne Pike
A review copy was received from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Series: Book 1
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (October 25, 2016)
Length: 384 pages
On the face of it, the premise behind this book resembles something which might have resulted from an ill-considered bet, quite possibly after a wild night of tequila shots. “Duuuuuude, what if you made Breaking Bad take place during the French late Baroque period? Except everything’s, like, totally in the future? You could have Marie Antoinette peddling pep pills out of her panniers! Bet you couldn’t write a story about that.”
“Just watch me!” says my imaginary Aprilynne Pike. And so, we have Glitter, a novel featuring a weird cocktail of historical and futuristic elements, where you will frequently find things like tablets or servitor bots mentioned in the same sentence as corsets and petticoats. All of this is set to the backdrop of the Versailles, where the interiors have been transformed back to their 18th century royal court-and-pomp glory. While modern day life outside the palace goes on as normal, inside its marbled walls the people live much differently, dressing, acting, talking and even eating like it’s still the 1700s.
The reason for this bizarre scenario is soon given, and seriously, you have to read it to believe it. Sometime in this world’s past, a global famine swept the planet, and the only way people survived was thanks to a new kind of crop seed developed and sold by Sonoma Inc. The company then became so stinking rich that, when France fell into massive debt and started offering up its landmarks for sale out of sheer desperation, Sonoma jumped at the chance to purchase the Versailles under the guise of a historical society. After screwing France out of one its most beloved heritage sites, they decided to rename it Sonoma-Versailles and the palace became sort of its own little corporation-kingdom. And since the CEO of Sonoma back then was a huge Louis XIV enthusiast, he made himself and everyone that worked for him live like the decadent royals and courtiers did back when his favorite monarch sat the throne (only with all the luxuries of modern technology too, of course). The tradition continued after him, so that now, three generations later, it has become the culture within Sonoma-Versailles.
Understandably, it’s a bit hard to categorize this novel. I’m not even sure how to describe it (is there such a thing as historical sci-fi?) but whatever it is, it’s crazy and weird but also strangely appealing. If you can get past the sheer absurdity and logical gaps (for one thing, how does a company like Sonoma Inc. manage to stay so rich, when all of their top execs are literally doing nothing but LARPing the Court of the Sun King?) then you’ll find this story is actually quite an entertaining read.
Still, perhaps it is because so much convoluted background information was required to explain its ridiculous premise, the actual hook of the story doesn’t even come about until well into the novel. Our protagonist, Danica Grayson, was just a daughter of a low-ranking Sonoma employee until her father unexpectedly inherited an influential position at the palace. Her power-hungry mother Angela immediately uses this an opportunity to groom Dani to catch the eye of King Justin, Sonoma’s current young CEO. The problem is, Justin turns out to be a murdering megalomaniacal psychopath—not that it seems to bother Dani’s mom one bit. In fact, Angela only uses the King’s dirty secrets to blackmail him into agreeing to marry Dani, so that her daughter can become queen.
Desperate to escape her betrothal, Dani seeks out a crime boss in Paris to help smuggle her out of Sonoma-Versailles. Problem is, his fee is enormous, and she can’t come anywhere close to meeting it on her own. So Dani decides to make a bargain with the crime boss: she’ll mix and deal a highly addictive kind of new drug called Glitter for him, under the pretense of selling it as cosmetics to her unsuspecting peers at court. The plan is that they will all get hopelessly addicted to Dani’s new makeup products and keep throwing money at her to buy more of it without ever knowing why, and she will make her fee and be out of there before her wedding to the King.
Okay. So I had one major issue with this book, and after laying out Dani’s situation, you can probably guess what it is.
The blurb for this book compares it to Breaking Bad and I can see why one would draw that parallel. After all, the show’s main character Walter White also had to resort to cooking and selling drugs because he needed the money, even though it is a heinous thing to do. However, Walter still came off as sympathetic character not only because he was in a bad situation, but also because he was initially doing it to secure his family’s future and well-being. Dani, on the other hand, never managed to earn that kind of sympathy from me. Yes, she was in a bad situation too, but foisting a highly dangerous and addictive new drug on her unwitting fellow courtiers without their knowledge or consent, with the express goal to get them hooked so she can get rich fast?
That is APPALLING.
At first, I didn’t like it, but still had to admire Dani for her cajones. She didn’t want to have to marry her psycho King, I get that. But somehow, being in a bad place made her feel justified to put hundreds of others in a bad place too, even after the horrors of watching her own father deal with Glitter addiction. In the end, it was Dani’s complete disregard for innocent human life that really put a damper on my feelings for this book. To her credit, I think the author knew that her protagonist would be a tough sell, and tried to soften the blow by trying to convince us that Dani had no choice, or that she was frequently wracked with guilt. Thing is, I just didn’t buy it. Dani had plenty of opportunities to back out, but she made the conscious decision not to at every single turn.
I also didn’t like the romance too much. It was like a light switched on and Dani and Saber went from hating each other one day to professing their undying love the next. Their relationship was an awkward match right from the start, when Dani was halfway to throwing herself at Saber the moment she laid eyes on him—even though they’d barely spoken two words to each other. If only she had showed even a fraction of that regard for the clueless folks she’s secretly doping up in Sonoma-Versailles.
Glitter was a very interesting book though, I have to give it that. I was intrigued the moment I read its synopsis, not to mention a little skeptical, but Aprilynne Pike pulled it all off with unashamed poise and gusto. The world-building is a bit iffy in places, but I really didn’t mind that too much. My main complaints had to do with the protagonist, and had she been a tad less despicable I probably would have enjoyed this book even more. If the next book promises growth for Dani, I just might be convinced to continue the series.