RELEASE DATE: 7th February 2013
FORMAT: Paperback, 352 pages
GENRE: Dystopian, Young Adult
Vis in magia, in vita vi. In magic there is power, and in power, life. For fifteen years, Lark Ainsley waited for the day when her Resource would be harvested and she would finally be an adult. After the harvest she expected a small role in the regular, orderly operation of the City within the Wall. She expected to do her part to maintain the refuge for the last survivors of the Wars. She expected to be a tiny cog in the larger clockwork of the city. Lark did not expect to become the City’s power supply. For fifteen years, Lark Ainsley believed in a lie. Now she must escape the only world she’s ever known… or face a fate more unimaginable than death
Lark always knew she was different. At sixteen she is the oldest teenager not to have been harvested. The Institute powers the City’s wall with the magic stripped from its children. The Harvesting marks the passage into adulthood and every child looks forward to the time they can give back to the City….well everyone except for Lark.
Lark is very much on her own since her brother Basil disappeared a few years before. He had given her a paper bird and powered it with magic, which was forbidden within the City, not long before he disappeared on an expedition outside the Wall. Lark cherishes the paper bird and keeps it with her always but little did she realise that it would become a portent for her future.
Finally Lark is selected for the Harvesting and while exploring the Institute she discovers a woman suspended from cables and in abject pain. The woman only manages to say one word ‘run’. Lark doesn’t have time to react and ends up being captured and subsequently Harvested. Drained of her power, Lark is all ready to return home to her older brother Caesar and her parents when she is sent for a second harvesting. A second turns into a third and Lark realises that they aren’t going to let her go. She comes to the realisation that she isn’t normal, she is a Renewable, a human that continually regenerates their power source.
The continual harvestings are torture and not just on her body but her hope at ever escaping. Her future looks bleak and she is reminded of the woman she saw when she first came into the Institute. The mysterious woman makes a connection with Lark during the harvestings and tells her to follow the birds to the Iron Forest. With no means of escape and weak from the torture of the harvesting Lark doesn’t know how she will be able to stop becoming the City’s next human battery. Her one hope is Chris, the handsome attendant in the Institute. One day, almost out of the blue, Chris gives her a key and the means of escape and she just had to take the chance and do it.
Lark manages to escape and after a near capture at the hands of her brother Caesar, she finds herself outside the Wall and completely on her own. She is half starved, has barely any clothes, no supplies and not sure how to find the Iron Forest. It is her first time outside away from the confines of the City, the first time she has seen the sky, the first time on her own and she is terrified. She starts her trek and its not long before she is found by one of the clockwork pixies who are effectively mechanised spies for the Institute. She disables the tracking capabilities of the pixy and they end up forming an uneasy alliance. They have a rather existential conversation about whether a machine can have free will which was very reminiscent of a number of Star Trek episodes.
The landscape outside the City is bleak, decayed and formidable where only small pockets of magic prevail. Much like the wall that protects the City these pockets are the only place that are safe from the ‘shadow people’ and other beasts. The shadow people were once normal but now warped and twisted by the lack of magic outside the Wall. Their grey skins is rippled with black veins and their razor sharp teeth are deadly. They are cannibalistic pack hunters who are driven to feed, even on their own kind. Lark’s terror is palatable in the scenes escaping this enemy.
Lark is not totally alone as finds help in the form of a feral boy called Oren who has been living on his own in the wasteland for years. While he guides Lark to the Iron Forest they bond and start to rely on each other during the many run-in’s with the shadow people. Once they reach the Iron Forest Oren is too petrified to enter it and we are left thinking this friendship has come to an end. especially once Lark finds a world inside the forest where magic and nature live more in balance. She thinks that she could have a future here and even discovers information about her brother Basil. Her sense of security is short-lived when Chris turns up having a escaped from the Institute, or has he? Its not long before Lark learns that she really hasn’t escaped the Institute and that not everything is how it seems. The fight is on and Lark has to make a decision which side she is on.
Spooner creates a tense and dramatic landscape for her heroine where the action starts from the first few pages and continues all the way to the end. Spooner has a very evocative writing style and I found it very easy to get caught up in the turmoil of Lark’s life. There is one scene towards the end of the novel, during a big reveal, that was so eloquently written, with such melancholy and sadness that I have to admit I got a bit blubsome. This is not a normal reaction from me especially with YA books.
I did find parts of Skylark a bit reminiscent of other YA stories including The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins and His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. It’s not that Spooner heavily borrowed from either of these series of books but if you have read them you will notice the similarities in both the characterisation and the plot.
I thought that Spooner created a well developed backdrop and history for the story which was revealed during Lark’s escape and as she reached the Iron Forest. This in turn helps to set the stage for the culmination of the plot and for future novels of the series. Spooner uses the paper bird that Lark’s brother makes for her as a symbol of both her journey and to advance the plot to quite good effect and I am sure that this will feature in subsequent novels. It must have been made out of the strongest paper ever to have survived everything that happened to her!
Skylark was a great read and I was instantly engaged in Lark’s story. I gobbled this book down in just a day and now anxiously awaiting the release of book two.
I loved every minute of reading this book. Lark’s life is so bleak and her future looks bleaker as she is all set to become the living battery for her City’s shielding. Her escape and flight to freedom is harrowing not just for Lark but for the reader as well. Spooner, creates a richly detailed world and carefully constructs Lark’s character so that she is quietly brave and in the end, heroic. There is one scene towards the end of the novel which was a big surprise with such eloquently written pathos that I am almost ashamed to say that I had the sniffles reading it. Such a fantastic start to this series I hope that Spooner can keep up the tension in the next book of the series.
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