Book Title: Metaltown (Standalone) Author: Kristen Simmons Number of pages: 380
The rules of Metaltown are simple: Work hard, keep your head down, and watch your back. You look out for number one, and no one knows that better than Ty. She’s been surviving on the factory line as long as she can remember. But now Ty has Colin. She’s no longer alone; it’s the two of them against the world. That’s something even a town this brutal can’t take away from her. Until it does.
Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr review:
– Steampunk Newsies meets Les Miserables — if this intrigues you, go for it and read no further
– Dark, dirty, and visually compelling, Metaltown weaves the themes of social inequality and classism through its infrastructures and character dynamics
– Non-protagonist characters (e.g. antagonists) lacked depth that made conflict of striking very easy and convenient to attain
– The instalust/instalove/romance can feel as though it hi-jacks the plot.
I must have hyped this book to myself way too much because it was a flop for me.
Disclaimer: I received an ARC of Metaltown from Raincoast Books re: TOR Teen.
I regret to say that I was let down by Metaltown.
Here’s the ish: on face value, this book held my attention with its dark, dirty, and steampunk-ish tones. I use these descriptions in light of it being quoted to be “Steampunk Newsies meets Les Miserables“. And in many ways, it is a very accurate comparison to call it that. This is almost a re-imagination of those stories with non-unionized child labour workers lacking any semblance of safety and protection. It’s when you add the layer of characterization and dialogue that the reading experience gets derailed for me. So while it is wholly original, you can definitely get a feeling for where it’s inspiration might come from.
For all intents and purposes, Metaltown thematically concerns itself with the disparity in social equality and classism captured by the continued struggle between the Privileged versus the Other. The plotting does well to weave these themes into every molecule of dust floating in each crevice of machine caked with grime.
Basically: there is very little I can fault with the setting.
Between it’s conception and how the infrastructures are described, the world building is visually compelling, atmospheric, and what I expected from a society built upon the teetering pendulum of war and industrial revolution. My only issue is that Simmons’ storytelling only grazes the basics of the outside world (places non Metaltown). I know it’s not the focus but its inclusion holds merit and tangible value that is central to the conflict. It would have been great to learn a bit more about the what was happening.
This is where I travel further down the rabbit hole of why this book didn’t work for me. I get it: it’s fiction. Happily ever afters are “ideal”. It’s that the path taken by this ragtag bunch of kids when combating the oversight of Big Brother (a la privileged and head honcho of gangs) seemed easy and convenient for my taste.
There’s this one scene early on when Lena passes by a mysterious boy #14 on the streets and they chat it up. He knows she’s not from around. She knows he has a magical dick. Cut to a future scene where Lena attempts to run away from home in a car she does not know how to drive (see: she crashes) and there, in it’s glory, is Colin and his comforting magical wee wee. Metaltown as a setting might very well be small, but coincidence after coincidence is something I raise the red flag to.
I can appreciate the acceptance of befriending those whom you rarely associate with; especially to the point of romance with those who are different and intriguing. This is very much a story about empathy as it is about shifting the power balance. But that’s not what I’m mad about (not what I’m most mad about anyways). It’s that this friendship-and-romance dynamic — otherwise a roundabout way of saying “hope” — dismisses other parties attempting to actively strike them down and to keep things the same.
The power balance is not with these kids…only it magically is. As a whole, the root conflict lacked compelling substance which created this weird sense of dissonance as to what was most important to these characters moving forward. I’m not saying you can’t win the war and the prize. It’s that extraneous factors weren’t that much of a threat (even though they are deemed as such) that reads off to me.
Although I already spoke enough to the characters above, I should mention that this book would, in my opinion, fail the Bechdel test (a basic question to ask whether two girls who converse with each other talk about something other than the guy). I’m not saying they don’t talk about something else…but those moments were few and far between.
In terms of character development, while Lena does experience the most growth, it was very haphazard in progression. This was mainly due to her lack of self awareness and holier than thou “don’t tell me what to do” … only to fuck things up for everyone else a few pages later. Literally the worst.
Ty was by far my favourite character in Metaltown. I won’t expound in too much detail but she’s that person who you want to have your back. That’s all I’ll say.
So, yeah, I don’t know about this one.
If you’re one to appreciate Newsies or Les Miserables, then perhaps Metaltown may appeal to you. Though the setting was incredibly atmospheric and nuanced, I wasn’t sold on how this story unraveled.