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Wild Awake
Hilary T. Smith
Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera
Bryan Peterson
Variant - Robison Wells Well, the joke is on me apparently. As I was racing towards the end of Variant it became very clear that the number of pages I had left to read were not going to be adequate to address the plethora of unanswered questions I had. My rising mental chorus of ”But what about...? But why...? How....? smacked straight into a four word brick wall: End of Book One. I really thought this was a standalone book. Ha ha. Variant is a fast-paced, fairly gripping read that slaps you with quite a doozy of a cliffhanger on the last page. It’s told through the first-person perspective of seventeen-year old Benson Fisher, who applies for and receives a scholarship to Maxfield Academy, thinking this will be a relief from a life spent in a series of foster homes. Of course, all is not what it seems. There are no adults at Maxfield, just intense video camera monitoring and four rules: no “violent” fights, no sex, no refusing punishment and no trying to escape. Breaking the rules results in detention, and no one returns from detention. Sometime prior to Benson’s arrival, the students of Maxfield had been getting their Lord of the Flies on in an all out intra-school war (really, what is it with me and books about kids beating the heck out of each other?). A tenuous truce between the three “gangs” (Havoc, Society and Variant) has brought a kind of precarious order to life in the Academy. So what exactly is going on? Is this a prison? Are they unwitting lab rats in a cage? And who is behind the sinister rules and punishments of Maxfield? It’s a chilling premise and the for the most part, I think, well done. Wells’ keeps a tight rein on the tension and it builds rapidly, making this a fast-paced read. There’s definitely an unsettling atmosphere of paranoia about the whole claustrophobic set up, especially through Benson’s eyes as the newcomer. Comparing his viewpoint with that of the students who accept their strange lives with a type of “it’s this or die” resignation, is quite effective. The power play – both psychological and outright physical - between the different factions of students is disturbing and keeps the story compelling.As a heavily plot driven story, the characterisation and development of relationships felt a bit thinner than what I usually enjoy. The primary focus here is on Benson attempting to figure out what’s going on and plotting escape, although he does form some tentative bonds with some students. The writing is brisk and quite business-like, which suits the pace and the urgency of Benson’s situation. (After all, this is not really a story to linger over, but one that almost forces you to race through). The sharp twists throughout, and particularly towards the end, are neatly orchestrated and pack enough shock value to consistently hold attention. And the ending? Well, all I’ll say is that Variant raises more questions than it answers. And beware if you’re not a fan of severe cliffhangers :)