Ok, yes The Culling by Steven dos Santos has shades of The Hunger Games, The Testing, etc., but what adds a new spin to this particular subgenre of apocalyptic/dystopian competitions is that the main character is gay. Yes, it shouldn’t be surprising in today’s society to have a main gay character in this genre, but for whatever reason it’s the first time I have come across it. In fact, initially I thought “Lucky” was Lucille or something, not Lucian.
However, rest assured that all the angst that Katniss felt for Peeta is here, just in the form of Lucian and Digory. Like the former pair it’s hard to care for someone when they are your competition in a brutal competition where only one can win. As frightening as the scenarios were in The Hunger Games, this book adds a brutal twist. It’s not just that only one participant will win the game, but the competitors who lose have to choose which one of their loved ones will die; every Recruit has two ‘Incentives’ to make sure they compete to win.
In the case of Lucian, it’s his four-year old brother Cole, his last living relative. It’s also not just that the person who takes last place in each trial has to choose which one of their Incentives dies, but that the Incentive dies in an excruciating and terrifying way. It was an odd juxtaposition to have such darkness in a story against the background of the growing love between Lucky and Digory.
While I think the idea of the Incentives was very inventive, as were the ways they would suffer before dying, I wish the author had been able to devote as much focus to building the characters. I would have liked to have known more about the Prefect, Lucky’s childhood friend and first love who survived his own Recruitment. Instead of making him the one dimensional bad guy, it would have been far more interesting to get hints about his own competition and how it changed him.
I also think that the competitors put up with their fellow competitor Orphelia too long which doesn’t make sense when she did nothing to earn their empathy and everything to earn their enmity. The relationship between Gideon and Cypress could have been better explored as they were very opposite types and it would have been interesting to understand what drew them together.
So I would have to say my overall feelings on this book were quite mixed…an ‘A for a competition even more brutal than The Hunger Games, but a ‘C’ on the characters. Hopefully Mr. dos Santos will focus more on the latter in the sequel, The Sowing.