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Review: Unwanted by Amanda Holohan

Amanda Holohan
Penguin Teen AUS
2015, 318p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Bea Azaeli lives in a walled city, believed to be the world’s last surviving. Inside the city there’s a strict order and everyone has a role to play within it. Some, like Bea, train to be a part of the city’s army, patrolling the walls and playing a role of sniper to keep anything that might want to invade, out. Others like Bea’s sister are Storks, charged with producing the next generation for the city. Bea’s father used to be a sniper but then rumour was, he couldn’t take it anymore and jumped. Because someone has to pay for his crime, Bea’s mother was taken away to work in the Farms. It’s up to Bea, by far the most capable to keep their family together, her and her two sisters. Her youngest sister is mute and requires extra stability and reassurance.

But the Bea’s sister makes a terrible choice and Bea is forced to go after her. And the things that she discovers on her quest has her wondering just what lies outside the walls….and if maybe, the real danger is on the inside.

Unwanted is a new dystopian YA novel set in a could-be-anywhere-city in a ruined world. Some time ago, an invasion came by Erebii who are….aliens? Other life forms?.. that can mimic form. The first Erebii to inhabit Earth was friendly but then the warriors came and possessed humans, taking their bodies. Bea’s city is fortified by a wall and on the wall are snipers who will shoot anything that comes into sight. They cannot take the risk and have their security breached.

Bea is training to be a warrior, a sniper like her father before her. He died in disgrace although Bea has trouble believing that it happened the way that was claimed. Perhaps she feels that she can rectify her father’s disgrace by becoming a valued and formidable sniper although much of her training happens before the book begins. Instead we get her final challenge as our opening scene and the book quickly establishes a friendship between Bea and her neighbour Gus, who is also in training and has passed his final test. Gus seems to also regard Bea as more than a friend (this will be important later) but she doesn’t seem to have ever thought of him that way (this will also be important later).

To be honest, I found parts of this book confusing, especially after Bea meets Red and the rest of the underground crew. Red seems like one of those magic characters who can go anywhere and do anything and convince people that either he has a right to be there or not to see him at all and he came off so bland and two-dimensional. Bea has been indoctrined to believe one thing her entire life and it seems remarkably easy for Red to convince her of something else. If Red is that clever, surely he could just convince everyone else too? The whole underground community with the mad skills thing seems so overdone in dystopian literature, everything they need at their fingertips. I know it’s not that easy and they seem to have been working for a while towards their goal but suddenly there’s this idea that Bea is the one they’ve been searching for, the one that will make all their plans come to fruition.

I couldn’t really warm to Bea as a character, for most of the book she seemed almost robotic, perhaps a product of her upbringing and training but there was little to really show her personality except perhaps the way she went into bat for her sister Jo, who was a Stork. But even that seemed like something she was doing automatically. She was at her most human when interacting with her youngest sister but that didn’t stop her leaving her alone either. I think the main problem is that several elements of this book reminded me of other books – the eye embedding in her palm reminded me of the Juliana Baggott books and the Stork part reminded me of well, many other dystopian books to be honest.

The first part of the book is rather slow but the last third of the book is significantly faster paced and I think that’s the part I enjoyed the most. There were lots of developments, a few surprises and things I wanted to know more about which didn’t really eventuate. It looks set up for a possible sequel as well, so perhaps if that eventuates we’d learn much more about the world in which this story takes place.


Book #30 of 2015


Unwanted is book #10 for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

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Unwanted – Kristina Ohlsson

Kristina Ohlsson (translated from the Swedish by Sarah Death)
Simon & Schuster UK
2011, 480p
Read from my local library

On a crowded train in Sweden, a young girl is abducted. Her mother had briefly stepped off the train at a stop to make a phone call and a series of events led to the train leaving the station without her back on board. Although the staff were aware of this and kept an eye on the girl, a disturbance in another carriage as the train pulled in to Stockholm meant that she was briefly unobserved and that was when she was taken.

Despite the crowds, there are no real witnesses and the police investigating the crime are at a bit of a loss. They discover that the girl’s mother and her husband, the young girl’s father, have recently separated and there are allegations of abuse but nothing has been proven. The police immediately focus on him, attempting to locate his whereabouts believing that if they can find him, they can find the young girl.

The investigation is turned on its head when the body of the young girl is dumped outside a hospital in Sweden’s north, the word UNWANTED written boldly across her forehead. Now the police are forced to search for another motive – from all their investigation although it is believed her father was abusive to her mother, there’s no evidence to suggest the young girl was being either abused or neglected and her mother is utterly devastated by her death.

Then the police get word that another child has gone missing, this time the young adopted baby of a couple. There seems to be absolutely no common denominator between the baby and the young girl from the train but there is no doubt that it is the same perpetrator. And now that the police have a timeline of sorts, for events, they know that the clock is ticking and if they are not fast, things will go exactly the same way as the first kidnapping.

Unwanted is the first novel in Swedish writer Kristina Ohlsson’s Alex Reht police procedural crime series. Inspector Alex Reht has been a police officer for about thirty-five years and he has a certain reputation among the ranks. He’s fabulous at his job, the opportunity to work with him as part of his team and coveted and younger detective Peder is very proud to have been chosen. The third member of their team is Investigation Analyst Frederika Bergman, an academic who applied to the force to further her experience and boost her resume. She doesn’t think she will stay with the force when her contract is up and Reht doesn’t really think that she has the intuition that he believes is necessary for the job. Frederika and Peder also clash, Peder has an active dislike for her and especially does not like when she has ideas, or is praised or receives attention from Alex Reht.

Scandinavian crime is big at the moment – Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbø, Camilla Läckberg, Jussi Adler-Olsen and more are all topping the best seller lists. I received the second novel in this series from the wonderful people at Simon & Schuster AU for review so I immediately grabbed this one from the library to get familiar with the main characters. Although this is a crime novel and is very much plot driven, it seems that just from this installment, the series is going to be a very character driven one too. At the open of the novel, Frederika is quite isolated from her colleagues, something that she perhaps even cultivates. She’s very intelligent, an academic with significant study behind her and Alex and Peder seem skeptical of her position within the force – there seem to be positions given to people with degrees rather than policing experience and it doesn’t sit well with the hardened cops who worked the uniformed beats in their early days. Alex also questions Frederika’s instincts, her ‘nose’ for good policing. It seems that this team is not really so much a team in the beginning – Alex is in charge. He has the experience, he has the ability. Peder is the young up and coming detective, determined to prove himself to Alex, whom he admires and respects, but he’s held down by problems at home and distractions at work. Frederika seems on the sidelines, on the outside looking in and part of the fun of this novel was watching the three of them come together to form a more cohesive unit, a trio of people working together rather than just 3 individuals who happen to be working on the same case.

I liked this book a lot but if it had one weakness it was that the connection between the kidnappings was quite honestly, easy to figure out and I feel that the police in charge were a bit slow to pick up on it. I know we’re privy to more as a reader as such, but I felt like the dots were there to be connected and the police just didn’t quite seem to be able to figure it out until it was pretty glaringly obvious. And then it seemed like it was really just one of them – but I did like the way in which they sat down towards the end, particularly Frederika and Peder, who had had some severe differences, and put what they had together and used each other’s information to piece everything together. I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in to the next book so that I can see where the character relationships and the work dynamics go from here.


Book #168 of 2012