I loved the premise of this novel by Elsie Chapman. A US town out West has broken away from the constant wars ravaging the country after a cold vaccine rendered everyone sterile. In order to make sure they can protect themselves from the outside and also not waste resources, the Board has created a system in which there are two identically genetic children created, duals, who when their number is drawn, they fight each other to ‘complete.’ To complete means they have to kill the other version of themselves as the city only wants the smartest and strongest citizens to help defend the city and to not squander resources on the weak. The twist is that the process happens prior to citizens turning twenty and some have to endure this assignment as young as the age of ten. In school the older students study kinetics and weaponry to prepare themselves for their assignment, but how do you prepare to not only kill someone, but to kill someone who looks just like you? If you thought children killing children in The Hunger Games was twisted, this takes things to an even scarier place. At least in The Hunger Games, not all children are chosen, and those who are have a shorter time frame to endure the Games. In Dualed, once the alts are activated for their assignment, they have one month in which they have to live through the idea that their killer could strike at them. If neither alt successfully kills the other in the allotted time, they are both killed, so there isn’t any incentive for someone to refuse their assignment.
West has already lost most of her family to this brutal practice…her older brother Aave, her little sister Ehm and even her mother. Although her mother won her assignment during her youth, she becomes a PK, peripheral kill, when a bullet from an alt trying to complete his assignment strikes and kills her. As the book opens the only remaining family left to West is her brother Luc, their father has also died, though initially the cause is not mentioned. In the world of Kersh? There is a strange juxtaposition that in order to guard against the battles outside, their whole city and living environment becomes a daily battleground. Even those who have ‘completed’ will be going about their daily lives when suddenly they will see people murdered in front of them, which are alts completing their assignment. This is one of the troubling aspects of the book, the violence doesn’t ever really end for people once they have ‘completed’ since they are still witness to other people’s completions on a regular basis.
Spoiler alert: Don’t read farther if you haven’t read the book and don’t want to know some of the other details. Having lost her whole family, and trying to protect another loved one, West makes a strange choice. She decides that the only way to protect her closest friend is to become a contract killer who kills people’s alts for them. By her logic, this experience will prepare her better for her own completion, however it seems strange to me that someone who has lost her whole family to the process would take this route. When she is working her contracts, she doesn’t seem to feel anything, but when her own assignment is activated, she is completely flustered and runs and hides rather than going for the kill. Other than the fact that her alt has her face, there really isn’t an explanation as to why someone who has now killed many people, can’t kill her own assignment. The other hole in the story is that when these children are activated, they appear to be on their own. It seems like those who parents are alive would protect them and help them find hiding places, give them money, etc. yet there is a building that is a shelter for the actives where they can check in and sleep and get food, for the prices of scanning in which also leaves an electronic trail that their alt could find. At one point West meets a ten year old active and you have to wonder where is his family and why aren’t they helping? I found that to be a story flaw. Yes, these citizens have grown up with this system and some are patriotic, but the parental instinct to protect one’s children would surely be stronger. The other flaw is that since guns are allowable to use for the kill, there seems to be a high chance that completes would be often mowed down in the crossfire like West’s parents were and with enough of those kinds of incidents, the system would break down. There are even AK’s, assisted kills which while frowned upon by the mysterious Board the penalties aren’t severe enough to stop it.
When I like a book, I am always happy that there is a sequel as I am not ready to say goodbye to that world or those characters. However, in this case, this book finished in such a way that there really is not a need for a sequel. There isn’t any big story arc or unfinished business for any of the characters, so I am a bit puzzled that the author chose to write a second book as I was satisfied with where this finished.


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