Author: Angie Grigaliunas
Rating: 4 out of 10 (NOT OFFICIAL SCORE; TSWI SCORE ONLY)
Blurb: They can take your house, your daughter, whatever they want.
For Ariliah, life under the militarized Hulcondans is one of order and safety. Despite the soldiers’ ruthless policies, she trusts their judgment. They alone provide protection from the enemies lurking beyond the city wall.
For her older sister, Rabreah, every glance from a Hulcondan is a threat. Though even a whisper against them is treason worthy of death, Rabreah is determined to end their tyranny. Joining an underground resistance is her only hope – until she realizes she doesn’t know the people she’s aligned herself with at all. Unsure who to trust but unable to back out, she must work alongside the attractive yet infuriating rebel leader who reminds her far too much of the soldiers she hates.
But with subversive posters appearing throughout the city and people dying on the blade of an unknown assailant, the sisters’ world begins to crumble.
And as the line between friend and enemy blurs, both girls must face the truth: everything is about to change.
**Spoilers do abound in this review! Also, trigger warning: rape and abuse are discussed*
Sowing, by Angie Grigaliunas, is the latest finalist for the SPFBO I’ve read and, though I wish I could report differently, unfortunately, I think I was the wrong kind of reader for this book, as I ended up not enjoying it, for reasons I’ll detail below.
Sowing is a story about two sisters in a dystopian society: the younger, Ariliah, who is just trying to survive the day-to-day events, living with a mother who is abusive towards her and dealing with her own supposed unattractiveness as she enters into a marriageable age while fearing the new rebellious group terrorizing their society; and Rebreah, the rebellious older sister who hates the Hulcondans who oversee their society with a passion after she is raped by one of their senior members. As a rebellion stirs, the sisters begin to go on different paths and we watch some of this unfold.
I thought the premise sounded really promising (also, is that cover not completely and utterly gorgeous?)! I love family stories and stories about siblings and it sounded like there was going to be a lot of room for potential tension and conflict as the sisters begin to travel on different paths, and I was so curious how that was going to pan out. Unfortunately, I felt the execution was off, which is why I rated this book a four out of ten for the purpose of this contest.
The writing itself was solid. It was very easy to picture what I was seeing and, at the beginning, it gave off a slight Hunger Games vibe. But a combination of elements made this one not sit right for me:
- Lack of understanding: For the first half of the book, I couldn’t understand why the sisters’ mother was so cruel. She was ridiculously cruel and mean to them, yet I could never figure out why and it drove me nuts, because neither sister did anything to deserve being treated in such a way. There were multiple characters who were cruel that had the same issue, a lack of understanding behind their motives on behalf of the reader. I can handle cruelty or evil characters, but without that understanding or motive, it’s hard to understand the purpose behind having those characters and not feel frustrated. I also didn’t really understand the Hulcondans as a whole. They made a really big deal about protecting their subjects and had some pretty harsh, overlord/dictatorship-type rules and there was a rising rebellion against their leadership. Yet I never could tell if the Hulcondans actually believed they were doing what was right or if they had an anterior motive, so I wasn’t sure if the rebellion was truly justified or not?
- Disconnection: I actually didn’t like Ariliah or Rebreah. Ariliah felt too much like a child to me who kept hinting at realizing what was going on around her, but never grew enough to truly catch on to what her sister was doing; whereas Rebreah had such a narrow-minded focus that was repeatedly focused upon thanks to her rape that it was hard to learn any other aspect of her character (not saying that rape isn’t traumatic enough to make her feel what she felt ((because it is)) but there is so much more to her character and I wanted to see more of her).
- Pace, repetition and dialogue issues: I thought the pace was a little bit on the slower side and we spent a lot of the novel discussing the rebellion, yet not actually participating the rebellion. It was a lot of repetition of scenes we had already seen as we waited for the next thing to happen (Ariliah working in the stables, for example). I also got frustrated how much the characters repeated themselves when they spoke within the same sentence and how the banter between Rebreah and Sorek felt frustrating, because it never felt productive or organic.
- The build-up and the ending: The entire book, we’re building up a resistance that I assume is going to turn into a resolution (most likely of a revolution) by the end of the novel, getting to see the outcomes of the rebellion, of the Hulcondans cracking down against the traitors, the traitors rising up against them, Ariliah learning Rebreah’s true feelings, their confrontation and then choice of how to move forward in their relationship as sisters. But the book just…ends, leaving all of this build-up yet no resolution. I was actually shocked that the book was over, because…nothing was resolved.
- The focus of rape: Rape was not only a huge topic in this book, but it was also a huge plot point, which really bothered me. I’ve read about rape before and it’s never an easy topic to read about. I have struggled with it before. But Rebreah’s difficulties coming to terms with it and having it used against her by Sorek–having him try to use that as a weakness she needs to grow against, a teaching tool–didn’t sit well with me at all. Especially as they were hinted at growing to become love interests, probably in the sequel, yet he assaulted her. It was meant as a test, a training exercise, but it was still assault, plain and simple. I didn’t like their dynamic, at all.
Unfortunately, at the end of the day, there are always going to be readers that don’t connect with a book and I was that reader for Sowing. Of course, this is my subjective opinion and I always encourage those interested to read books that pique their interest, so they can make up their minds for themselves. I felt this book had a lot of promise, but too many issues for me to connect with it and invest with it.
I also feel that, any reader who does choose to read it (and I hope you enjoy it!) needs to be aware that rape is a huge topic that can’t be forgotten in this book and as such, there is a major trigger warning that I would attach with it.
It’s never fun to write negative reviews, but it’s also important to me to write honest ones. These were my honest thoughts and please remember: one book someone doesn’t like, could be someone else’s treasure! As always, thanks for reading. Looking forward to diving into our next SPFBO finalist–after which, The Alliterates and I will be halfway done with reading all the finalists!