Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
The Choosing: Rachelle Dekker, May 23—27, 2014
My rating: ♦♦♦♦◊
Rachelle Dekker, the eldest daughter of legend Ted, presents her debut novel with The Choosing. It is set in the dystopian near-future in the former Washington DC under the ruling Authority. Under this constitution, girls are entered into an annual Choosing ceremony once they reach 17 and are selected for marriage by potential suitors. Those who fail to be chosen are enrolled into a lifetime of community servitude as a Lint.
The overt message is about the influence society wields over a woman’s worth; although blatant in the plot, it reflects many of the attitudes embedded more discreetly in real life. Though at first it seems the novel is a mere vessel for a feminist diatribe from Dekker, it becomes a great deal more.
Several interrelated stories unfold over the first half, setting up the emotional payoffs for later. Carrington Hale spends much of the first act trying to come to terms with her failure to be chosen, and the resultant ire from her hitherto loving mother, which brings her into contact with her co-workers and their guards, the CityWatch. It’s the second act in which the action picks up the pace and really becomes nail biting.
The Choosing is set up to be compared with so much. It’s post-apocalypse future setting with remote leadership and an age-based deadline for innocence is shared with The Hunger Games; its classification of citizens akin to Divergent; its dedicated guardians of the wall, who do not marry and serve for life (one named Stark!) reminiscent of A Song of Ice and Fire; and of course comparisons with her father’s body of work are inevitable. Perhaps it’s a knowing wink, perhaps it’s a coincidence, but the first page refers to both the Captiol and horde (albeit in the traditional sense of the word).
With such heavyweights lined up to size The Choosing up, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was bound to be a pale imitator of one or more, but in fact it holds its own as something unique. It builds a story that’s part dystopia, part whodunit and part soap opera.
Though the plot’s overall arc is quite predictable, some developments are surprising. The backstory of the Authority is told through excerpts from history books interspersed with early chapters, but it’s a shame there isn’t more of it. It could have been a hugely dramatic novel in its own right and, rarely for me, I really hope a prequel materialises in the future to explore it more. The current setting could have used more detail: is it akin to contemporary housing, or more primitive? What of the clothing?
It was easy to share Carrington’s struggle because it was representative of the one we’ve all had. Who and what determines our value? What defines us?
One of the most interesting characters was her mother, Vena, who is portrayed through Carrington’s eyes as cold and detached, concerned entirely with proprietary and not at all with her daughter. However as time goes on, we’re shown glimpses of her true nature; educating her daughter to accept the rules in order that she can be accepted by society and live happily. The exploration of duty over happiness is embodied in the Carrington/Vena interactions and present seemingly unresolvable conundrums.
Getting the inevitable father comparison out of the way, Rachelle’s prose is actually much tighter than Ted’s. She succeeds in conveying deep emotion without resorting to the melodrama used by her father, and flows much better with less cheese. At gimes, the writing swells with raw feeling.
The Choosing is a brilliant debut, and it begins what looks to be an intriguing series. It’s unclear quite where it will go from here, and a more immiserise world would be greatly appreciated, but there’s no denying that it’s a journey you’ll want to take.