This is a spoiler-free review for BZRK, by Michael Grant. At the bottom of the post, I’m giving away the entire trilogy, consisting of BZRK, Reloaded, and Apocalypse (which comes out on the 13th). You can do what you like, but I’d appreciate if you read the review before entering the giveaway. (It makes it easier to enter, in fact.) Thanks to Egmont USA for the opportunity.
Set in the near future, BZRK is the story of a war for control of the human mind. Charles and Benjamin Armstrong, conjoined twins and owners of the Armstrong Fancy Gifts Corporation, have a goal: to turn the world into their vision of utopia. No wars, no conflict, no hunger. And no free will. Opposing them is a guerrilla group of teens, code name BZRK, who are fighting to protect the right to be messed up, to be human. This is no ordinary war, though. Weapons are deployed on the nano-level. The battleground is the human brain. And there are no stalemates here: It’s victory . . . or madness.
BZRK unfolds with hurricane force around core themes of conspiracy and mystery, insanity and changing realities, engagement and empowerment, and the larger impact of personal choice. Which side would you choose? How far would you go to win?
BZRK was an interesting read. It moves quickly, creates some enormous stakes, and reveals an intriguing piece of technology that’s fun to read about. The characters are immediately engaging, from both sides of the conflict, and moral ambiguity abounds. There were elements I didn’t like, but the story was good enough that I could ignore them and still have a good time.
First of all, the setting. In the summary, it says weapons are deployed on the nano-level— that means tiny robots, scurrying around doing stuff. I loved the idea of controlling a nanobot, loved the idea of every smooth surface seeming miles long and contoured in the micro aspect. The description on that front was phenomenal. The technology made sense, and it was nice to see that both sides of the war didn’t use the exact same technology all the time. The author’s narration of two places at once made it interesting to see how each character controlled his or her equipment. The author knew what he was doing with his technology. Occasionally it was difficult to tell what was happening in the big picture, because the small stuff was so fascinating, but the author made it work.
The plot ripped along rather quickly, and at first it was difficult to tell who was on which side of the war— a lot of hints are dropped, but nothing is put together very well (unless you have a very good memory for detail) until halfway through the book. The villains, however, were obvious and terrifying, and had very good reasons for being hated. Everything escalated into an excellent climax… but resolved in an eyeblink. The ending wasn’t satisfying enough.
Since it’s the first book in a trilogy, the ending isn’t supposed to be completely satisfying— but readers need a little knowledge of what happened after the final battle, even if there are more battles to come in the next book. Readers need a return on their emotional investment, so they can decide to come back and invest more emotions in the next couple books. Unfortunately, the half-page denouement of BZRK didn’t do it for me. It would have been helpful to have the next book in the series on hand.
The characters were another great part of the book. I warn you, there is insta-love in this book— but it is the best insta-love I’ve read. The author made insta-love make sense in a way that Disney and YA haven’t done for me yet. I still don’t really enjoy insta-love, but this tied in with both the plot and the setting to make it useful and worthwhile to read.
But insta-love was not the only highlight. The moral ambiguity was extremely well handled, with hero characters telling themselves they aren’t villains, and villains trying desperately to be heroes. These were side characters, of course, so it worked out well— for the real main characters, or the real villains, to have those sorts of doubts would have been odd indeed. But the author handled it well. Also, the emotional consequences of the use of technology was keenly felt. I enjoyed the way the author wrapped character in everything else and made it interesting.
That said, the author had a big problem with headhopping. No matter where he was in a scene, he would hop to another person’s thoughts to explain something from a different perspective. Occasionally it was useful to see, but that was outweighed by my annoyance at trying to figure out whose thoughts I was reading. The author managed to smooth things over in several places, however, which made it slightly better. But between headhopping, not knowing what kind of place the characters were in, and the short ending, it felt like the author was still young and trying to find a style that worked. While I appreciated all the other things he did well, it felt a little too juvenile to truly amaze me.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book. It’s a quick read, and if you don’t want to read further than the first book, I think it’s entirely possible. I think the author could have done better, but he could have also done a lot worse— I’m happy with what he did.
Now for the giveaway. It will be open until Monday, when the final book of the trilogy is released. (Unfortunately, the giveaway is US and Canada only.) Click the link below to reach the giveaway, and good luck.