Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Lost Genetic Code That Connects Them To Atlantis

The Lost Code
~The Lost Code~
The Atlanteans
Book 1

By Kevin Emerson
Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

What is oldest will be new,
What was lost shall be found.

In the year 2086, Camp Eden promises summer “the way things used to be,” back before the oceans rose, the sun became a daily enemy, and modern civilization sank into chaos. Located inside the EdenWest BioDome, the camp is an oasis of pine trees, cool water, and rustic charm.

But all at Camp Eden is not what it seems.

No one will know this better than 15-year-old Owen Parker. A strange underwater vision, even stranger wounds on Owen’s neck, and a cryptic warning from the enchanting lifeguard Lilly hint at a mystery that will take Owen deep beneath Lake Eden and even deeper into the past. What he discovers could give him the chance to save the tattered planet. But first, Owen will have to escape Camp Eden alive…

I've been on a bit of a "girl power" kick lately, so reading a book both written and narrated by guys was a very nice change of pace. Not to generalize at all, but I enjoyed reading a story where life or death didn't hinge on falling in love with the right/wrong guy. But I'll come back to that later.

It's been a few years since the ice caps melted, the majority of the atmosphere dissipated, and humanity was forced into hiding from the sun. Most people live either below the surface in underground colonies or in five BioDomes which filter out the worst of the sun's harmful radiation. They can generate their own night stars, clouds, and even rain underneath the dome; it's almost like the global collapse never happened. So obviously, it's the perfect place to run a summer camp for kids.

The star of our story is Owen, an average 15-year-old kid at summer camp. Owen is a bit of an outcast, not because of his interests or physique (well, maybe a little) but because he's from one of the fringe colonies, whereas everyone else at this camp is a dome native. You'd think winning the lottery was a good thing. He's not out to overthrow the camp bully or find lost treasure or anything. He'd just like to make it through the summer with his bones intact, his skin not fried, and maybe a little attention from that hot councilor-in-training wouldn't be so bad.

And then he drowns. Way to go.

One of my favorite character quirks of Owen is how he pictures what's going on on his insides. While drowning, and a couple times when he gets what might be called 'a gut feeling', he pictures these technicians inside brain running around. Most times they're trying to avert a crisis, but occasionally they just stand around and calmly process new data coming in. It certainly takes some of the drama out of your lungs filling with water. And it also takes some of the drama or eye-rolling out of those 'gut feeling' scenes. You know, those times where a character leaves their room in the middle of the night, not because they know something is happening, but because they have a strange feeling they should leave now. The brain techs don't completely resolve the problem of plot convenience, but they did make it much more palatable and entertaining for me.

And that humorous, eye-winking tone is reflected throughout the story. In many ways, I could compare The Lost Code to Harry Potter in its prophecy and power of three elements, but I also saw a bit of the Hunger Games in its dystopian government with a rebellion that the kids are kinda thrown into. What differentiates it from both, however, is its tone. There's a light-hearted quality to everything that's happening, even when things take a turn for the gory. And trust me, things do get pretty gory there at the end. But even with the whole world hanging in the balance, Owen still has the determination and the hope that pushes him (and the reader) along. Even in the face of the complete destruction of all of humanity, I'm still more hopeful than I ever was with The Hunger Games.

I think a little of that light-heartedness also stemmed from the drama-free romance. A huge difference when compared to so much of the girl-centered YA out now. Sure, this had a romance, and there were moments at the end where it was almost 'I can't live without you', but at the same time the book wasn't afraid to have a little fun with it. There's a scene towards the middle where Owen is freaking out in his head about how this kiss is going to happen. It's all set up, they're leaning in, and he's just going nuts. And then she shoves a brownie in his mouth instead. I couldn't help but smile at the clever deflation of what could have been a completely mushy love scene.

I will say I was a little surprised by one of the semi-romantic thoughts that ran through Owen's head, though. It's still fairly early on in the budding romance/crush, and the thought of 'raising babies together' comes up. It's hard not to draw comparisons with female authors writing female characters here...but I can't remember the last time I read a book where babies even crossed the mind of a YA character. A girl may consider spending the rest of their life with the guy, but the last book I can remember that even mentioned the possibility (or not) of children was The Hunger Games. I don't know whether to attribute that to the author's idea of teenage boys, the characterization of Owen, or the fact that in this series humanity is facing complete obliteration.

Another thing that kinda surprised me was the Owen's and the other teens' extremely fast acceptance of 'facts'. Owen drowns in chapter one or two. No doubt about it, he legitimately drowns. But through some strange force, he's still alive. Not only does he have this mystery to solve, but he also has a cryptic message from the girl who pulled him out of the water (and has a crush on) that he is struggling to decipher. Ultimately, he meets up with the girl and a group of three other teens who are going through the same thing.

Everything they know is described in a couple paragraphs. Okay, maybe a page of dialog. And it's just accepted. They know next to nothing, not why or how, and yet are perfectly content to keep doing what they're doing.

You'd think Owen might be confused or eager to move ahead in the mystery, but nope. He's perfectly content to just join the club, and it's only when more weird stuff happens that he actually learns more. Okay, they don't have to be The Scooby Gang, but you'd think they would be a little less passive with what's happened to them. I know fear is a strong motivator for keeping the status quo, but you'd think fear would also prompt more investigation into their strange condition. Not a huge problem for me in terms of the narrative, but something I definitely scratched my head at.

As you might imagine, the environmental message here is anything but subtle, yet at the same time it's not preachy either. It's not telling you to go plant trees or stuff like that, but it does paint a picture of what extreme climate change might/would do to the earth and, in effect, humanity. The main plot is still following this kid and his journey into the fate of the world, but it's impossible to get to his story without the devastation that the planet has already faced. I still wouldn't call it preachy, but it's something to take into consideration if you don't want an environmental story.

For the start of series, I thought The Lost Code accomplished a great deal an did so effectively. The setting is introduced and gone into with a lot of detail, yet with more that can still be fleshed out in the sequel(s). We have characters who are engaging and who I'm excited to see their growth as the books continue, though I was disappointed that one of the characters introduced later on won't be as recurring as I initially thought (still holding out hope for him). There was some predictability to it, just from having read other YA series, but there were still a lot of twists and turns that provided uniqueness. I'll be interested to see if Owen remains the sole narrator in the sequel, or if it changes altogether. And ultimately, I'm excited to see what else is in store for our heroes and what resolution can come to stop the end of the world.

Overall, I enjoyed The Lost Code immensely. Emerson's story was simultaneously fun, thought-provoking, action-packed, and sweet; an adventure I'd highly recommend to any teen, guy or gal, who is looking for a little mystery, a little romance, some dystopian, paranormal/sci-fi, and environmentalism, all wrapped up in a story about summer camp. Character age and complete lack of sex or language have me putting this safely in middle-grade level, but if violence or gore is an issue for you, I'd keep this for high school readers. So if you're looking for a book to make you thankful you can still enjoy the sunshine, or if you're curious how Atlantis factors into a book where the world is primarily a fiery wasteland, you should definitely pick up The Lost Code for yourself.

Approximate Reading Time: 7.5 Hours