237. The House of Power (Atherton #1) by Patrick Carman
Publication: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (April 1, 2008), Paperback, 330pp / ISBN 0316166715
Genre: Sci-Fi, Middle Grade
Read: November 24-25, 2009
Summary from Amazon:
Edgar, a gifted climber, secretly scales the treacherous walls separating the three worlds of Atherton: the humble grove that is his home…a mysterious highland realm of untold beauty and sinister secrets …and a vast wasteland below, where a monstrous danger lurks that could destroy them all.
While searching the forbidden cliffs for a treasure lost in his faded memory, Edgar discovers the first of many startling revelations to come: the three realms are beginning to collapse, turning his entire world inside out. Atherton is not what it seems, but something far more dangerous, with a history locked inside the mind of a madman and a future beyond Edgar’s wildest imagining.
Warning: There’s some spoilers in this review, mainly because I couldn’t keep myself from talking about certain things. They’re not really big spoilers, but you might have a better time if you read the book first and then my review.
I had bought The House of Power back in the summer, I think, mostly because of the cover (although I am not sure if the figure on the right is a girl or a boy– is it Samuel or Isabel? No idea.). It’s quite energetic, and I thought it looked like a potentially good book (it was also about $2– very good deal). I didn’t remember I had it, however, until I read Bart‘s Best Utopian YA Novels Redux post, which mentions the Atherton series and how awesome it is. Having now read the first book, I can most heartily agree with that sentiment!
I was really surprised by The House of Power. It starts off one way and then these disconcerting things start popping up that made me wonder if I read it correctly. For instance, Atherton is a world orbiting around the “Dark Planet,” i.e. Earth after many decades of pollution, destruction, and general irresponsibility. (Think Wall-E.) But this isn’t told to the reader right out– and it’s very jarring when you figure it out. Then too the way Atherton is set up: three levels (the Highlands, Tabletop, and Flatlands), where all the power is at the top and the people living in the lower layers have to submit to the toppers because the toppers control the water. It’s sort of an obvious metaphor for a political organizational scheme, but it is a MG book, after all. And anyway, it’s creepy! How can a place like Atherton exist? It’s not spheroid. The bottom part is always pointing towards the Dark Planet. Actually, maybe something is slightly off in the physics of this book. Don’t think about it, maybe.
Anyway, I really liked the themes of power, control, freedom, and independence. While Edgar is trying to figure out who he is and what Atherton means, there’s an interesting secondary plot with the people living on the top two levels and how the meeting of the two means a complete revolutionary upheaval. There’s a really interesting (and creepy) thing near the end where it turns out the dude who created Atherton believed that certain people should be the thinkers and certain other people should be the workers, and that the two can’t be mixed. So what happens when the thinker level and the worker level meet? (Hint: it’s violent.)
The characters were pretty typical MG fare, but I liked Edgar and his curiosity and nonconformity. I hated Isabel, a girl who kept following Edgar around and bothering him for much of the book, but once she got away from Edgar she was much more likable. Samuel, a boy Edgar meets from the Highlands, was a wet bag of something but he was useful, and I think he’ll get better in the next books.
I really liked the writing. It was somehow kind when it could have been harsh, and I liked how it addressed the reader once in a while without being condescending or overly silly. It kept the book lighthearted and less creepy than it could have been had it been written by someone else. It’s still creepy, but not in a depressing or hopeless way. There’s hope for Atherton, and for Edgar and his friends, and I really look forward to reading the next two books.
If you like dystopian fiction and want something a little different, then you should definitely check out the Atherton trilogy.
Other reviews: Dolce Bellezza
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– Interesting interactive website involving some codes in the back of the book.
– The trailer for this book: