Author: Meagan Spooner
Genre: Fantasy, Dystopia/Post-Apocalypse, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab
Publication Date: August 2012
Hardcover: 344 Pages
Sixteen year-old Lark Ainsley has never seen the sky.
Her world ends at the edge of the vast domed barrier of energy enclosing all that’s left of humanity. For two hundred years the city has sustained this barrier by harvesting its children’s innate magical energy when they reach adolescence. When it’s Lark’s turn to be harvested, she finds herself trapped in a nightmarish web of experiments and learns she is something out of legend itself: a Renewable, able to regenerate her own power after it’s been stripped.
Forced to flee the only home she knows to avoid life as a human battery, Lark must fight her way through the terrible wilderness beyond the edge of the world. With the city’s clockwork creations close on her heels and a strange wild boy stalking her in the countryside, she must move quickly if she is to have any hope of survival. She’s heard the stories that somewhere to the west are others like her, hidden in secret – but can she stay alive long enough to find them?
Stand alone or series: Book one in a planned trilogy
How did I get this book: ARC from the publisher (at BEA 2012!)
Why did I read this book: I’ve had my eye on this book for a while, so when we saw it available at BEA this year, of course I scooped up a copy. So later, when the author contacted us about doing a review and guest post, of COURSE we were thrilled.
Lark Ainsley is used to feeling passed-up and left behind. Left behind, because one of her older brothers, Basil, left Lark years ago on a bold mission to leave the City and brave the dangerous, magic-deprived world beyond the wall that keeps its inhabitants safe. Passed-up, because every year, a group of children – usually around 11 or 12 years old – are selected to be “harvested.” Their natural powers – magic, if you will – are stripped and added to the Resource, the heart of power that keeps The City alive and powers the wall that keeps the terrors of the ravaged world outside. After being harvested, a child becomes a full citizen and member of society, tested for aptitude and given a job – but not Lark, who is sixteen and has yet to be harvested. Seen as a “dud” by her fellow students and an embarrassment to her older brother, Caesar, Lark is anxious on this particular reaping day – finally, she is called for harvesting.
The City and its ruling class of Architects, however, guard great and terrible secrets – the process of harvesting is not all that it seems. Lark discovers that she is a rarity among citizens; she is a “renewable,” a one-in-a-million creature that is able to regenerate magical energy, capable of being harvested multiple times. Lark finds herself the subject of grueling, painful experiments, and unless she wants to end up a vegetative battery for the City, she knows she must escape – to brave the world outside, to find her lost brother, and to live a life beyond the domed walls she’s always known.
The debut novel from Meagan Spooner, Skylark is a melange of familiar elements – the dystopian/post-apocalyptic ravaged world that has forced survivors into a domed barricade, reminiscent of The City of Ember or Pure or Under the Never Sky. There’s the savage outside world that has not been so sheltered from the effects of the apocalypse (again, see Veronica Rossi or Julianna Baggott). There’s the brave young girl that will venture from her sheltered life and change the world (again, see…well, you get the picture). These familiar elements said, Spooner’s novel is undoubtedly unique, favoring not only the familiar post-apocalyptic dystopian tropes, but also mixing in some pure fantasy with her systems of magic, and the technology that is powered by magic in Skylark. From a pure worldbuilding perspective, I appreciated this blend of familiar with new, of whirring machine cogs and the ebb and flow of magic.
Plot-wise, Skylark also toes the line between cliched and fresh, old and new. The first portion of the book – involving Lark and the City, the discovery of the bitter truth behind the Resource that powers all, and her daring (ok not so daring) escape – is certainly exciting, but hardly shocking or revelatory. I think the audience that has grown up reading Lois Lowry’s The Giver (another dome book!), or any of the newer wave YA dystopias inherently knows that the Government is not to be trusted, that aptitude tests for young heroes and heroines at a certain age never go well, and once you have been discovered to be Different and Special (of course, these heroes and heroines are always Different and Special), one must get the hell out of Dodge. (Of course, she has the help of a handsome powerful boy to accomplish this.)
The second portion of the novel – and the meatiest bulk of the book – is also somewhat familiar and plodding. Lark is on the run, outside of the city, and – surprise! – has found a (handsome male) guide that inexplicably sticks out his neck to save her life. Over and over again. Because she’s incompetent. (At this point in the novel, my interest started to wane.)
But the third act of the book, THIS is where the magic comes back, and the potential of the early chapters and worldbuilding finally come into play. It is in this section of the book that Lark breaks away from tropsim and cliched nonsense; it is here that she is able to stand up for herself and on her own. Suffice it to say, the book hits highs and lows, but thankfully ends on a strong note.
Which brings me to my favorite part of all – the characters. As a heroine, Lark is the same intriguing mix of utterly infuriating and strangely compelling – for much of the book she is the former; by the end of the novel, she has grown into the latter. I love characters that go through these types of changes and feel like real, layered – if at times incredibly frustrating – people, and Lark is a perfect example of such a heroine. While in the second portion of the book I wanted to throttle this fictional heroine for being so utterly helpless, I also wanted to fistpump with joy when she tells her handsome, wild boy guide that she hates feeling incompetent and needs to do and go where she can take care of herself. YES. THIS. THANK YOU, MEAGAN SPOONER![1. On a sidenote, if you read Meagan Spooner’s Inspirations & Influences post today – about protagonists that devleop strength instead of being born with that innate steel – you can see how this has shaped Lark. Awesome.] I love that Lark is terrified at times – and admits her terror – and I very much believed and loved her reactions to things. For example, she is terrified of the sky when she sees it for the first time – its emptiness and largeness would be a terrifying thing to anyone unused to it. Similarly, when Lark first experiences rain, she freezes up in a completely believable – but so unfamiliar, to us – reaction. These sorts of flourishes are beautifully done and strewn throughout Skylark, which I appreciate whole-heartedly.
I also love that while there are the familiar elements of a Dystopian Dreaded Love Triangle of DOOM, Ms. Spooner takes the novel in a completely different direction by the end – spurning the tropes that, headdeskingly, characterize much of the YA dystopia canon.
Needless to say, Skylark is a bit of an emotional roller coaster of a read – but the payoff, I think, is absolutely worth it. I truly enjoyed this book and eagerly await the sequel – just as I eagerly await more books from this new author. Definitely recommended, especially for the YA dystopian fan.
Notable Quotes/Parts: You can check out and read the opening pages of Skylark via Publishing Crawl online.
Additional Thoughts: We are thrilled to have author Meagan Spooner over today for a guest post. Make sure to stop by and check out her Inspirations & Influences for Skylark, and enter to win some goodies while you’re at it.
Rating: 7 – Very Good
Reading Next: Memory Boy by Will Weaver
Buy the Book: (click on the links to purchase)