Review: Secondborn by Amy Bartol
Forget Hunger Games. Despite the superficial thematic resemblance, Secondborn is a clever new take on a dystopian society of elites with slaves who fight for their entertainment. Instead of districts with second-class citizens who live and toil for the rulers, this novel brings it home.
Firstborn children rule. Secondborn fight, toil, die for the firstborn elites—and will never be allowed to marry or reproduce. Third and laterborn? They are aborted, killed by their parents shortly after their birth, or hunted down and tortured to death for the amusement of the sadistic agents of the Census.
Roselle is Gabriel St. Sismode's younger sister. This means that she will Transition from pampered child of The Sword Othalla St. Sismode. She will become a low-ranked cog in the Sword war machine, with a life expectancy measured in days, simply because she was born second.
Roselle's face is well-known, because her childhood has been broadcast to the world. That won't help her in her new life, where every firstborn fears her supposed influence with her worshipful fans, and secondborns resent the apparant life of luxury she has led. They see only that she was allowed to live "at home" until 18, unlike most Sword secondborns who are Transitioned into the army at age 10. They cannot see that even as a child, she was kept isolated from other children (especially her older brother), and lived a regimented life of training for battle, in a cold atmosphere of adult contempt for her secondborn status.
She will need to call on every lesson she has ever learned to thread the perilous path between the rebel secondborn army The Gates of Dawn, the sinister Census agent Crow with his license to kill laterborns and his desire to torture the famous Roselle, and the Gardeners of the Rose, a secret firstborn group who see Roselle as the ideal pawn in their bid to seize power.
The land-mines in her way will include not only these formal enemies, but also her estranged family, and many other secondborn Swords, both troops and officers.
Bartol has built a deliciously detailed, vicious world to rival any dystopian conflict, and her heroine is a suitably complex, strong combatant in it. I can't wait to see where the author will take Roselle Sword next.