Beautiful Creatures co-author Margaret Stohl begins a new YA dystopia/fantasy series with Icons. Aliens have taken over the world, and a select group of teens have supernatural powers, though it’s unclear where the powers came from, or what the purpose of these powers are (presumably to defeat the aliens and taken back human freedom?).
As the first book in any series, the primary task of Icons is to establish its world and introduce readers to the characters. As such, it does start off a bit slow, though I enjoyed the introductory scenes of Dol and her best friend Ro in the countryside. The introductory chapters in particular have much too many parallels to The Hunger Games. Apart from the obvious — dystopian world — there’s the female protagonist Dol with hot, brooding, angsty male best friend Ro who wants to overthrow the system, they’re each the only one who really understands the other, they both enjoy spending time in the outdoors. Then, we later meet Lucas, instantly recognizable to any avid YA reader as the other point in this love triangle, who is a blond ray of light and love, connecting to Dol in a very different, much more hopeful way than Ro’s anger does, and who has a natural ability to charm people. Katniss, Gale and Peeta, anyone? Dol however does suffer in comparison to Katniss, being a much less kick ass, much more emo heroine.
That being said, it’s hard to fault Dol for being emo. The superpowers in this series are closely linked to emotions, and to anyone who has studied a bit of Spanish, Dol’s full name Doloria gives a pretty strong hint what emotion she embodies. Stohl tries to broaden Dol’s range a bit by also gifting her with a heightened sense of empathy, but really, being born with the innate capacity for sorrow must really suck. There isn’t any subtlety with Stohl’s treatment of the teens and their powers, which is unfortunate given the potential richness of the world she has created. Take for example the character names: Ro’s real name is Furo, which explains why he’s always angry, Lucas’ full name is Lucas Amare (light and love), etc. It’s all just a bit too obvious, and when it comes to predicting how characters will react to any given situation, their names pretty much say it all.
Still, the book is a fun read overall, and the story picks up when Dol and Ro are captured and sent to the embassy. Along with Lucas and a fourth teen Tima, they are monitored and their abilities tested, and while the purpose is unclear, intriguing snippets from rebel documents hint at the symbolic significance of these powers. Stohl drops just enough hints to keep the villains intriguing — the aliens’ human representative, Ambassador Amare (Lucas’ mother, which adds an interesting dimension to both characters) is as much a victim of these aliens rather than a pure villain, and the ending hints at a much more emotionally gripping sequel.
I also love that the protagonist is a person of colour, as well, that the Ambassador, probably the highest position a human can attain in Stohl’s world, is a woman, Lucas’ mother rather than his father. Even better, while these details are mentioned, Stohl doesn’t beat us over the head with them, suggesting a time when it becomes mainstream for books to have people of colour as protagonists and women in top positions of power. Given the wide range of YA books in the market as well as the genre’s popularity, these little touches make a statement, and make Icons stand out in a very good way.
Thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.