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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

SPFBO Finalist: Sowing by Angie Grigaliunas (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski & Mihir Wanchoo)



Official Author Website
Order Sowing over HERE



AUTHOR INFORMATION: Angie Grigaliunas (grig-ah-LOO-nahs) is a part-time normal person and full-time author of fantasy/dystopian young adult books. And also some romance. (“She admits it! Murderer!”) She loves Jesus, the woods, and the stars, and has always wanted to be a superhero with a secret identity.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: 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.

CLASSIFICATION: A YA Dystopian novel.

FORMAT: Sowing was self-published by the author in 2016 as a first book in The Purification Era series. It's available in an e-book, paperback and hardcover format. 

The book counts 386 pages and is divided into 32 numbered chapters. The cover art was done by Kat Mellon. 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (LUKASZ): While I read broadly, I rarely reach for dystopian YA fiction. I have nothing against the genre, but given the choice, I pick other things. In this case, though, I'm glad SPFBO made me read it. 

The story takes place in the nation of Etholia, in a city walled from all around. Militarised Hulcondans rule the city and expect its citizens to follow ruthless policies. They can be cruel and abusive but they also provide protection from the enemies lurking beyond the wall. 

The dystopian scenario requires a rebellion, and one is just starting. Not yet city-wide, but groups of rebels led by a mysterious Sorek try to shake highly regimented society. And here comes the twist. Grigaliunas doesn’t follow key characters on both sides of the barricade. Instead, she focuses on two sisters - Ariliah and Rabreah - who interact with change-makers. The novel is told in first-person chapters that alternate between their points of view. 

Ari trusts Hulcondans and believes their rules will bring peace and safety. Rab despises them and dreams about ending their tyranny. She joins the underground resistance but soon she realises she doesn’t know the people she’s aligned herself with. 

Sowing impressed me on many levels, namely character growth, in-depth study of trauma and emotional abuse, and a solid presentation of strong emotions. While the sisters were irritating and I couldn’t fully connect with them, they grew a lot. Characters felt well developed, not only because of behaviour but also thanks to intriguing back stories and unique quirks. 

Ariliah never gives non-verbal responses to direct questions, and she stutters, especially when nervous or afraid. Rabreah is always on the defensive and lashes out on people. Rebellion leader, Sorek, remains snarky and composed while one of the oppressors, Masrekah displays a dry sense of humour. 

Both sisters suffered emotional and physical abuse from their mother. They care for each other deeply and I would say sisterhood and their relations remain more important than the plot. Obviously, there’s a plot and larger scale-events but Grigaliunas doesn’t focus on them. Instead, she focuses on people involved in the conflict and their emotions. We get little action or graphic violence but the in-depth study of characters wrestling with their respective fears (in first person POV) makes Sowing surprisingly dark and intense.

I appreciate the lack of an evil villain. Both city Lords, Masrekah and Siserah, fit the role but there’s much more to them. I’m especially interested in manipulative Mas. I have a feeling that his icy pretence is just a mask. I definitely want to see how his arc develops. And I like him. 

Then we have Sorek. He cares for people, but he will do anything to stop monsters. When needed, he’ll become one.  He makes an impression of someone who doesn’t care whether he lives or dies as long as he reaches his goals.


OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (MIHIR): Sowing by Angie Grigaliunas is a book that has divided opinions among the SPFBO judges. It’s a book that Sarah (Bookworm Blues) chose this book because it was a sorting hybrid thriller and political intrigue novel among other things.

This book was a hard one for me to review as on one hand I enjoyed the characterization as we get two solid POV characters and they do draw the reader in entirely but on the other hand, the world details aren’t quite laid out properly for the narrative to make sense entirely. The main plot revolves entirely around Rabreah and her younger sister Ariliah. Both of them are living in an unnamed city which is ruled by beings called Hulcondans and they now extract a heavy price on the populace for their support. Ariliah & Rabreah have completely differing viewpoints about the necessity and effective of the Hulcondan ruling class. Thus begins the main plot of the book and it further devolves into many threads as both sisters go their separate ways as they try to make sense of their lives and try to find purpose. This book had a lot of issues that affected my enjoyment, dealing with 3 topics:

- Worldbuilding

- Characterization

- Overall plot

Primarily the worldbuilding is where there is a massive disconnect, we are told of a conflict in the past as well a current problem involving a humanoid race called the Itzalin. But that’s about it, we never hear anything more. Not whatever happened in the past or what’s currently happening. There’s a few mentions of somethings but nothing that clarifies much more. This partially baked approach really hampers the plot as well as our understanding of the story.

The characterization is the next point that perhaps struck me as a little off. Here’ why both the sisters are said to love each other but they take different paths. Now that wouldn’t be such an issue but the author doesn’t really explain much of why and how they came to their current positions. It would have been nice to see why Rabreah is the rebellious sort whereas Ariliah seems to be the one deferring to authority. Plus this has been pointed out in many reviews and I don’t want to add to the chorus but the mother’s character is major puzzle. Why is she so sadistic towards her daughters, why does she behave the way she does? This and many more questions are just left for us to ponder and this was jarring to say the least.

Lastly the overall plot never really coalesces into something that the readers will enjoy. I mean that there isn’t much that happens overall and then there’s the whole sexual assaults (real, assumed, and threatened) that occur in the book. I get the author wanted to project a world that offers no safety to women and in some cases, it might convey the sense. However a trick utilized too many times, becomes easy to predict and that’s exactly what happens. Almost every time when you think something bad can happen, it usually does and it involves some form of sexual assault. I wish the author had better camouflaged this aspect of the world or presented it in a way that didn’t make is seem repetitive.

Going by my review it might seem, that this book isn’t all that good. But that’s not the case, there’s a good story hidden within and you can glimpse it from time to time but there’s a lot that needs to be done over here for this title. I hope the author doesn’t take this as an attack. For a book to reach the finals, it definitely means that it has merit. Each judge’s opinion is subjective and all the things that I listed above, could be pooh-poohed away by anybody who enjoyed Sowing. For me this book, wasn’t an enjoyable read and that’s what is reflected in our score.

CONCLUSION (ŁUKASZ): I’ll stop before this review becomes too long (probably too late anyway). I enjoyed the book. Impressive intrigues and cleverly exploited character flaws make it memorable. Fans of non-stop violent action may feel disappointed as not much is happening. If, however, you appreciate introspection and character study, Sowing should satisfy you.

SPFBO Final Score - 5/10

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