SPFBO Finalist Review: Sowing by Angie Grigaliunas

Hi everyone! Surprise surprise, I’m still alive. I took some time off from book blogging, but with award season fast approaching, I think it’s time I dusted off this old blog and started doing reviews for all these exciting books and seeing what the fuss is about. My current plan is to read and review each of the 10 finalists for Mark Lawrence’s Self Published Blog Off. Full disclaimer, I am not one of the judges for the contest, and I am not affiliated with the contest in any way. I’m just doing this for fun.

The first of the books I read was Sowing by Angie Grigaliunas. So, without further ado, the review.

This one was actually pretty challenging for me to review objectively, because it had many good things about it, and many things I thought were, unfortunately, less good. To start with the good: I thought this book was incredibly compelling. I finished it all relatively quickly, and at no point during the book was I ever bored, which to be honest, is pretty rare for me, even in books I love. The two main characters felt fleshed out and three dimensional, and they both stood on their own as unique people with wants and desires of their own. While the narrative is unrelenting in putting them through one trial after another, I always found myself rooting for them and wanting them to succeed.

Our heroines live in a walled-off city ruled by the Hulcondans, a ruthless upper class of soldiers. The Hulcondans protect the people of the town from the Itzalin, a race of gray-skinned monsters who also work on the farms as slaves. According to the Hulcondans, the Itzalin would completely overrun the town if given the choice. Whether or not this is true is difficult to say, because we hardly see or hear anything about the Itzalin throughout the entire book. But whatever the case, the Hulcondans claim to protect the common people from the Itzalin, which means they get to do pretty much whatever they want, including, apparently, marrying the local fourteen-year-olds of their choice. Someone in town has been spreading dissent against the Hulcondans in the form of hanging posters in town, and there have been several terrorist attacks where people have died.

Although we have little to go from, I think Grigaliunas did a good job setting up the dystopian nature of the town. There is almost a palpable tension in the air all through the book, making it clear that people are terrified of the Hulcondans, even as they depend on them for protection.

Unfortunately this is where things start to fall apart. Sparse world building would be all right if there were more of a compelling plot, but the truth is this book has hardly any plot at all.

The book has two main characters, Ariliah and Rabreah. Ariliah works in the stables and tries to avoid her abusive mother as much as possible. She dreams of marrying a Hulcondan and advancing her social status, but due to the physical and emotional abuse she’s endured since childhood, she considers herself unworthy of their attentions. Rabreah takes a much dimmer view on the Hulcondans. After being betrayed by one of the highest-ranking Hulcondans in the town, she seeks to join a rebellion against them. However she also loves her sister and will do anything for her, and her would be comrades see this as a liability.

While setting up the two sisters’ needs and wants in a compelling way, the plot unfortunately drops the ball about half way through and fails to really go anywhere. A series of bad things happen to the girls, and it is very heart-wrenching to read about, but I never get the impression that they’ve experienced any growth or agency or progress towards reaching their goals. It feels very much like an entire book of the characters spinning their wheels.

The weakest part of the book by far, however, is the rebellion itself. For being a bunch of feared rebels, they … don’t get up to a lot of rebelling. It’s even heavily implied that whoever’s hanging the posters is doing so outside of rebellion jurisdiction. Indeed, the only people the rebels seem to be working against are their own fellow rebels. The leader of the rebellion is this guy called Sorek. And let me tell you, he is just the worst. Not only is he pretty incompetent at rebelling, but he’s a genuinely horrible person.

Okay, this is the part where I’m going to get into spoiler territory. There will also be swearing. You have been warned. Highlight the text below to read it:

He initiates Rabreah into the rebellion by pretending to be a Hulcondan and kidnapping her and interrogating her. He tortures her, literally cutting her with a literal knife, and threatens sexual assault including groping and a forced kiss. He even pretends to murder Rabreah’s best friend (who is in on this little jest, apparently) in front of her.

Afterwards, he’s all, like, “You’re fine, I was just joshin’ ya.”

NO BITCH SHE IS NOT FINE. She’s probably going to have PTSD from this shit. The worst part is, while Rabreah is justifiably upset at Sorek at first, eventually she comes around to liking him. The narrative strongly hints at a blossoming romance between them, even though he also very openly flirts with her sister, which is just gross.

Right. Anyway. In summary, fuck Sorek sideways with a rusty spork. It is possible that in the second book he will be cast as more of a villain, but unfortunately I really think the narrative is setting him up to be some kind of hero. Either way, the way he is presented in this book makes me unfortunately unlikely to read any sequels.

Edit: My bad, his name was Sorek, not Yorek. Apparently I disliked the character so much I forgot his darn name.

People who might like this book:

  • Fans of the young adult dystopia genre
  • People who like seeing characters put in increasingly perilous situations
  • People who like character-driven fiction with protagonists they can root for

People who should avoid this book:

  • People who want to avoid depictions of rape or sexual assault
  • People who prefer fast-paced action

Reddit Fantasy 2019 Bingo Squares

  • I think self-published is the only one. One could make the argument for small scale slice of life, because nothing particularly large-scale actually happens in this one. But the Bingo goddess might smite you for that one, because it’s obviously leading up to a rebellion plot that will not be small-scale. If the rebels ever get off their butts. *ahem*

 

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