Book Review: The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Title: The Summer King

Author: Alaya Dawn Johnson

Rating: 2 stars

Review:

For the Queen to reign, the King must die…

In the city of Palmares Três, Brazil, the ritual of the Summer King has come again. One man will be chosen to wear the crown, one man who will win the hearts of all the people and choose the next Queen by spilling his own blood by her feet. It is a brutal tradition, but an ancient one that makes the city what it is.

June Costa has watch several Summer Kings before. Like the rest of the city she has cheered when they were crowned and cried at their deaths. It’s part of her culture, one she has never questioned. Until she meets Enki. Captivating and charming, he is chosen by many to be the next Summer King. Both June and her best friend Gil quickly fall for Enki – June sees in him the soul of an artist, one to match her own. Soon, June finds herself asking why the Sumer King must die as together they create a masterpiece that the whole of Palmares Três will never forget.

The Summer Prince had a lot of potential: it’s a post-apocolyptic, dystopic sci-fi novel featuring a Brazilian society run by women, focusing on the life of a struggling artist who falls for a boy who volunteered to sacrifice himself in a gruesome traditional ceremony that happens every few years to choose the city’s new Queen. Sounds impressive, right? Sadly, this book is pretty bad. Like many YA post-apocolyptic and/or dystopic novels not enough time is spent on the world building, and what there is focuses far too much on the what rather that the why. We are told exactly what happens to the Summer King – from the first death that started the tradition, to the choosing and voting which June participates in, to the final ceremony – but we are never told why a Summer King is needed. Seriously, of all the ways to choose a new monarch, why human sacrifice? And surely the acting of having a man always choose the Queen undermines the fact that the ruling council is deliberately made only of women? What’s worse is that the Summer King isn’t chosen based on their intellect or political knowhow. It’s literally a popularity contest, with talent shows and dressing up to wow the judges and gain votes from the public. It’d be like having the winner of the X-Factor choose the next Queen of England. (Though if this were real, I’d be far more inclined to vote for Jedward just to see them die at the end of it all.) I can’t comment on whether the depiction of Brazil was accurate or a exoticism, as I have sadly never been and don’t know that much about their culture.

I also greatly disliked the main character June. To put it bluntly, she’s a spoilt brat. She spends all her time partying and running around vandalising property in the name of ‘art’, but her life is so hard. Her so-wonderful, so-inspiring father who she still glorifies killed himself even though his family knew what he was planning and begged him not to and his daughter was only a teenager, then her mother had the cheek to try and find happiness again by re-marrying a woman who has done nothing but try to help June accomplish something with her life other than a hangover and a painted patch of wall where some crap graffiti used to be. (Hmm, that wasn’t as harsh in my mind. Oh well.) As for all the other characters they are pretty boring to be honest. In fact, that’s how I would summarise my whole experience with this book: boring. If you read the official blurb it mentions something about June and Enki ‘adding fuel to a growing rebellion against the government’s strict limits on new tech’, but that’s not really a plot line as it’s barely featured. Seriously, worse rebellion ever.

One thing I did enjoy was Alaya Dawn Johnson’s depiction of teenagers and sex. Personally, I think this is a sex positive book. Firstly, homosexuality is seen as completely normal: there are several same sex relationships that are so natural that the narration doesn’t even point out that they are same sex. It’s just stated as facts – ‘this is my mother and her new wife, this is my best friend and his boyfriend’. Secondly, there is no slut shaming in this book, and sex is never something that a character is made to feel bad for having. Now I know that some reviewers complained that June described her virginity as a ‘problem’ she had ‘taken care of’ with her best friend, but I have no problem with this. Teenagers have sex for as many different reasons as adults, and some want to lose their virginities as fast as possible. It’s not something I’d personally encourage, but if they want to do it, and they are safe about it, then who I am (or anyone else) to judge?

Anyway, to put it simply, I was bored and unimpressed with The Summer Prince. Pity.

2 stars.

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