SCORE: 2.5 out of 3.0
The Amber Project by J.N. Chaney might be classified as YA Science Fiction, but it feels like it leans towards the older segment of that audience. As a result, it should appeal to both YA and general SciFi fans alike. It is a relatively quick read with a very linear plot (except for an occasional meta-textual flashback in the form of data recordings). If I were to try and describe the book I might do well to mash a number of post-apocalyptic novels together with elements from Half Life (the video game) and Orson Card’s Ender’s Game. Don’t get me wrong, the comparison to Card is in formula, not effect. I’m not saying Chaney’s story isn’t compelling, though. But let’s be honest, few authors write young characters as well as Card. All that said, The Amber Project was a fun read, and despite some minor quibbles with it, I will likely read the sequels, for if he does nothing else (and he does many good things in the book), Chaney does make me want to see what happens to the story’s main character, Terry.
Readability (2.3 out of 3.0)
- Typos – Few, if any, that I can remember.
- Grammatical Errors – Rare.
- Exposition – Straight-forward. There were no noticeable breaks in point of view. The use of meta-textual exposition and dialogue, in the form of data recordings and conversations between the adults in the story (mostly) reminded me of the meta-textual conversations between the adults in Ender’s Game. The similarities don’t stop there. Ender has Graff, Terry has his own teacher/mentor figure, though the relationship is nowhere near as deep as Card’s characters. More on these similarities below.
- Cliche phrasing – One must remember that much of the dialogue is between teenagers. While some of said dialogue can be hackneyed, I’d like to believe it was the author’s attempt at imitating a teenager’s speech. Having said that, I can imagine the author has improved in this area in future books.
Outside of the flat dialogue, there was little, if anything, in Chaney’s writing to distract me from the storyline, which presented me with enough uniqueness to pique my interest and hold it.
Story (2.8 out of 3.0)
When I started reading Chaney’s book, I was immediately reminded of Ender’s Game. There are kids being taken from their families, raised by their teachers, and trained as soldiers. Chaney’s kids are bio-engineered, though, which is a pretty interesting element, and of course, central to his story. Variant is a brutal antagonist, but the reader doesn’t understand what it is until very late in the story, and it doesn’t seem to be an intended plot reveal. It would have made so much more of the story make sense when the reader finally does learn what it is (and you will immediately see some of the comparisons it draws with the video game mentioned above).
While this story is post-apocalyptic on the surface, it feels more like a speculative fiction piece. I won’t reveal too much, but it is definitely different from all those other stories. And what makes it so different is the interesting and unique event that destroyed the world, and against which the protagonists struggle. It is part “event” story, part “world-building” story. As an “event” story, its strengths are found in exactly that, the event (which I shall not reveal here). As a “world-building” story, it’s strength are in the invention of a new world mutated by Variant. I thoroughly enjoyed the story, though I wasn’t quite as fond of the narrative elements focusing on the Mothers, a social and professional class of women in the underground settlement the protagonists are from.
Characterization (2.2 out of 3.0)
Most “event” stories suffer from poor characterization, and this is an area in which I feel Chaney’s story could be improved. At the end of the story, I really only cared about one character: Terry. If the others had been wiped out by some unexplained means, I wouldn’t have blinked twice. Terry is really the only memorable character, and then, only because he is experiencing an intriguing physical change and I want to see what that really is (though I have some ideas, I am excited to learn it as the author reveals it.)
POV is never broken in Chaney’s book, but his POV is never very deep, and the internal dialogue of his main characters is often predictable and formulaic. That said, I believe this was the author’s first book. I’m sure that aspect will improve in his next ventures. When I identified the book as an “event” book, I didn’t expect a lot of emphasis on the characters, as they are often just vehicles for the plot in that kind of story. But I have been surprised. Unfortunately this one was not one of those times.
Je ne se quoi – (2.7 out of 3.0)
The best measure of a book is how compelling it is. Does it make you think? Does it give you pleasure when reading? Do you find yourself “binge-reading”? I usually consume 3-4 books at a time. The biggest endorsement I can give for Chaney’s book is that I found myself skimping on reading time with those other titles so I could finish The Amber Project. Now I have to find time to read the sequels. Chances are I won’t have time. But chances are, I’ll make time.
– Doug Wallace