[Review] Sunset Rising – S.M. McEachern

Book Title:                      Sunset Rising (Sunset Rising Series #01)
Author:                            
S.M. McEachern
Number of pages:      325

Synopsis:

s.m. mceachern - sunset rising (cover)

February 2024: Desperate to find refuge from the nuclear storm, a group of civilians discover a secret government bio-dome. Greeted by a hail of bullets and told to turn back, the frantic refugees stand their ground and are grudgingly permitted entry. But the price of admission is high.

283 years later… Sunny O’Donnell is a seventeen-year-old slave who has never seen the sun. She was born in the Pit, a subterranean extension of the bio-dome. Though life had never been easy, lately it had become a nightmare. Her mom was killed in the annual Cull, and her dad thought it was a good time to give up on life. Reyes Crowe, her long-time boyfriend, was pressuring her to get married, even though it would mean abandoning her father.

She didn’t think things could get any worse until she was forced upstairs to the Dome to be a servant-girl at a bachelor party. That’s where she met Leisel Holt, the president’s daughter, and her fiancé, Jack Kenner.

Now Sunny is wanted for treason. If they catch her, she’ll be executed.

She thought Leisel’s betrayal was the end. But it was just the beginning.

(re: Goodreads @ Sunset Rising by S.M. McEachern)

Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr spoiler-less review:
  • A fast-paced action filled read based on tyranny versus revolution.
  • Strong heroine/protagonist and charming/witty male lead; prototypical YA romance.
  • Typical, mundane tasks made interesting and given life.
  • Interesting world building that’s seemingly larger than what it seems.
Initial Thoughts:

I finished this in about a half day so I guess you could say I couldn’t put this book down. It wasn’t a mind blowing or intensely thought provoking experience, and to be honest, I wasn’t expecting that. I was looking for an action driven dystopian narrative with a respectable plot and I think I got just that.

And like many books within this particular subgenre, it really is best to go in with an open mind and not make comparisons to its existing predecessors. But if you’re one to judge like that then consider this: if you’re to take elements from currently trending YA dystopian series (I won’t name them, but you can take a guess) and they all created a love child then this would be one of their offspring. But hey, remember a lot of formula goes into writing narratives within this subgenre as well so it’s not all too surprising.

The cover is nice and the synopsis does enough to bring you into the book. I’ll tangent further into this in the review itself.

Disclaimer: Potential spoilers inherent to this review from here onward.


Afterthoughts:

As I was saying, the cover and the synopsis is pretty much a giveaway (in my opinion) that limited the overall shock value of the marriage predicament between Leisel Holt and Jack Kenner that essentially sets up the whole plot. I’m not sure if this was intentional or not and I’m kind of torn between the cover design and the inclusion of the dress and hairdo which scream wedding outfit. Although how it turned out wasn’t exactly as I had imagined, it’s the fact that on face value, the potential to reveal so much with so little is what makes me question the choice.

[“Seventeen?  I married a teenager?” He sounded shocked.  “Wait a minute, are you telling me that you and Reyes got engaged when you were only thirteen?”

“Yes.  What’s so strange about that?”

“I’m twenty and that’s a young age in the Dome to get married.  Usually people wait until they’re about twenty-five.”

“Well, when you face certain death at thirty-five, you speed up your life a little bit.”]

But this novel is simply a roller coaster for me. Not one with tipsy-turny spiraling (does this even make sense?) but one of those rickety wooden coasters that keep you on edge throughout the ride. The beginning arc (prologue included) was fantastic; mainly the world building presented through before and after. Speaking of which, the world being crafted continues to expand as the story progresses and rightfully so with this being the first installment to a series. The detailing isn’t overly descriptive and inexplicably lets the reader build upon a base vision; which I actually appreciated. I mean I guess there could have been more geology and minerals than simply coal… igneous and metamorphic rocks where you at? The only minor downfall I had with the buildup is when I totally imagined the Dome (and its varying elevator-traveling levels) to look like a modified hotel resort-complex with the plot taking place in a kitchen, ‘apartment’ rooms, corridors, and laundry room; all places that you’d see in a typical hotel. Nope. The addition of certain elements toward the end of the novel had me baffled at the size. But I guess that’s what several hundred years of post-Dome establishment creates.

 [“People started lining up for the so-called feast the night before the wedding. The guards didn’t care because no one was making trouble and the night had kind of a festive feel to it. After waiting all night, you know what the feast turned out to be? Bread. They gave us bread with our stew. Do you believe that?”]

The separation between civilizations living in the Dome (called ‘bourge’ for bourgeoisie) and the Pit is one that readers should come to accept easily. It’s certainly livable by the basic standards with an abundance of inequality. The government makes no exception toward their autocratic-driven oppression. Hey, propaganda called, and they’re telling me that the Dome provided salvation to hundreds of individuals upon the drop of World War III. The neat thing about the suppression are the inhabitants of the Pit who work to earn credits to help pay for a lifestyle; from running water to shaving razors. Laziness doesn’t keep you alive; especially since you’re bound to die (via. the Cull) by thirty-five anyways – keeping the population in check. Resources run thin and flow top-to-bottom, allowing those in the Pit to enjoy the scraps of their own labour. They’re presumably even lower in status than a pot a plant; and I’m talking shrub-level. The workers get reminded of the Domes generosity through televised screenings by the head honcho himself – he also spits a lot too. Here, here, to a government that will be turned upside down by a girl who, in my mind, looks like Merida (from Brave) without the accent (or maybe she has one – I will never know). I came to this conclusion when she put on the emerald dress and got her (red) hair did before being engrossed in a web of deceit that changes her life forever.

One more thing: I’m not extremely versed in political semantics, but the parallelism drawn between the lifestyles of the Dome and Pit is one which can surely question the efficacy of today’s neoliberalist society. Let it marinade in your mind.

 [“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. But red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.’ It was used to predict the weather. A red sunset meant clear skies, but a red sunrise meant a coming storm. I can’t help thinking your mom should’ve named you Sunrise, because there’s a storm on its way, Sunny, and you’re at the center of it.”]

The narrative follows the first-person perspective of Sunset “Sunny” O’Donnell and the variety of alias she has to undertake when she’s found for treason. Throughout the novel, we follow her in her daily routine of working mundane tasks (peeling vegetables in the kitchen, serving food at a party, performing laundry tasks, being an object of attraction)…you know, typical odd-jobs. The focus is on the juggle between her old life and relationships (involving her dad, best friend Summer, and boyfriend Reyes) while taking the days as they come with her treason-accomplice Ben (Jack Kenner). They perform ordinary tasks like those in the Pit to stay hidden, alive, and it’s the plotting when Sunny becomes Autumn (her first alias) which really amazes me. Props to McEachern for giving laundry life and making it seem like an exciting yet scary endeavour. But as far as character development goes, even though she had the greatest transformation (so far), she isn’t too different from heroines nowadays. From a superficial level, she is indeed acting older than her age and is selfless to those around her. So although exasperated by her self-deprecating nature, it’s the kinks in her character that evolve with the desperation to survive; if not for herself then for those around her.

[“When I was growing up, my parents told me there were monsters down in the Pit. They always threatened to send my brother and me down there if we didn’t behave. Their threat always worked because we believed in the monsters. It wasn’t until I was living there with you that I found out the monsters were us.”]

Her testosterone counterpart, Jack Kenner, is the addition that sets the formulaic love-triangle in motion. He’s pretty genuine to those in the Pit for being a diplomat’s son. His banter and charm were complimentary to Sunny; unlike Reyes who although was (presumably) giving her tough-love… it felt like domestic violence to me. He’s cray cray. However, despite some of Jack’s physical limitations when living in the Pit (being unable to see in darkness), I kind of had some issues with him being part of an answer to everything; like a Jack-of-all-trades sort of deal with combat-and-techie skills. Pun intended. And it’s not like he was completely void of emotional intelligence either…so this one is a doozy from a character developmental standpoint.

[“It’s not pitch black in here.  The guards use nightlights, and it leaks into the apartment,” I said.

Jack opened his eyes as wide as he could and looked around the room. “I guess you have to born in the Pit to find light where there isn’t any.”]

The minor characters unfortunately felt typecast as individuals who could die for the greater good of Sunny’s character and plot development. We don’t really get attached to anyone but the main protagonists (and the antagonist by proxy). I’m sure there will be more development in time because there’s so much sketchiness in the characters that are sent to work as playthings and/or are culled. This is one facet that’s strangely unclear to me as a reader but it could simply be a decisive plot point to allude in individuals being curbed to leave the Dome to fend for themselves. Time will tell.

This might not mean anything to many who read this – but I was pretty excited when the “Alliance” was formed; see reference to pro-gaming teams: Alliance in DOTA2 and League of Legends. Got the feels all round’. I am such a nerd.

I think there is a clear potential with Sunset Rising (and its trilogy) if there is more care to develop the characters (both major and minor). However I’m optimistic this is just first novel woes. Although I would infer to this novel being majorly plot-driven, there is great emphasis on the characters and the decisions in which they make. The plot is one that’s familiar and at times lacking originality due to the sheer amount of elements you can mix-and-match from the dystopian grab-bag; not to mention some cliché and predicable moments that occurred. But it’s through Sunny and Jack that we would actually care for the relevance and plausibility of this post-apocalyptic dystopian read. So despite my hypocrisy of engaging this book with an open-mind, there’s still some things that I feel could have been better to transform this to a stellar narrative. But by no means is this a terrible read either. The dialogue was well-thought and the page-turning suspense is well received even till the end with the cliff hanger that is sure to get minds thinking.

 //end use of words that I guess are opinions

So I totally thought Barracuda (link here) was going to be my last review for the New Year…buuuuut McEacherns’ Sunset Rising sneaked up on me. Let me know how you feel about this book!

And again: have a safe and enjoyable start to twenty-fourteen!

Cheers,
Joey

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