Reviewed by: BigAl
Approximate word count: 55-60,000 words
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A former high school math teacher, S.L. Baum now works as a substitute elementary school teacher, chauffeur for her kids, and novelist. She lives with her family in the Southwestern United States. Her The Immortal Ones series has four books, thus far. This book is the beginning of a new series.
“Bluebell has spent the last twelve years of her life at Training Tech, the government-run boarding school all children are required to attend. Now that she's seventeen she is fully prepared for Incorporation; a time when females and males are allowed to mingle again, for the first time since they were toddlers. It is also the day she must endure Citizen Branding - the mandatory searing of a mark into the flesh of the left wrist of all new Citizens. O for fertile, X for infertile. The fate of every Citizen, male or female, is determined by the results.”
Lately I’ve had a few discussions about serials, in essence a full work published in installments. Very common in the 19th century in both Britain and the US, novels such as Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin were published first in magazines with a new part in each new magazine issue. Although much less common in the last fifty plus years, there are a few examples of modern serials. Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities was serialized in Rolling Stone magazine while Stephen King’s The Green Mile was published as several very short books. In fact, that’s how I read that book, borrowing the full set from my sister after all the episodes had been released. I’d never seen such a thing before and thought it strange. Serials are apparently making a revival (Amazon even has an official Kindle Serials program).
With all the talk about serials, I’m obviously setting up to tell you that Lush is a serial. Unlike King’s book or the Amazon program, it isn’t a novel split into bite-size pieces, but a serial with each installment having its own title and being novel sized. It differs from a series in that each book in a series will go through a complete and obvious story arc. A serial is more like episodic television with conflicts happening and being resolved throughout, but without a single, overriding conflict that happens and is resolved in one installment possibly ending with a cliffhanger so you’ll watch the show next week or maybe talk about it around the water cooler. It leaves you with something to anticipate. And that’s how I feel about Lush. I’ve been left hanging, eagerly anticipating the next installment.
Lush serves as an introduction to the world and characters in this continuing story. It takes place in the distant future in a dystopian world very different from our own. Dystopias often have squalor and poverty, which isn’t true of Concord, the name of the world Baum introduces us to. The standard of living appears to be high, but what makes it a dystopia is the people are oppressed. As in most dystopian fiction, there is a political subtext, extrapolating elements of contemporary society into the future, imagining what the results of continuing in a particular direction might be, and serving as a warning. It was clear to me that the world Baum imagines was the result of excess nanny state-ism with the government or state becoming too involved in the care and life decisions of its citizens. (For political types, wherever you fit on the spectrum from right to left, you should be able to spot examples here that are projecting what Baum thinks will happen if the other guys get their way, but also what will happen if you get yours. Both political parties in the US are guilty of nanny state-ism, just in different areas.) Concord, as painted by Ms Baum, is a great fictional world. But I wouldn’t want to live there.
The protagonist, Bluebell, is in her late teens and has the qualities that make a great focal character for a young adult novel. She’s likable and conscientious, yet not too perfect, with flaws and the quality most of us had at one time of sometimes testing the limits placed on her. Even though I don’t want to live in Concord, I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment (promised in about six months) to see what happens to Bluebell next. (That cliffhanger left me … well, hanging, obviously.)
Review is based on a beta (pre-release) version and I’m unable to judge the final product in this area.
Rating: **** Four stars