Title: Strand: The Silver Radio
Author: Justin Attas
Publication date: February 14, 2019
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian, YA
One Sentence Summary: Quincy doesn’t fit in in the great tower called Strand no matter what he tries, but, when he’s forced into the Nether Layer, he finds adventure, danger, and purpose.
I have a love-hate relationship with dystopian sci-fi novels. On one hand, there’s something that’s just appealing about them. I love when authors take our world, push it far into the future, and re-imagine what life might be like if there had been some major catastrophe. On the other hand, most dystopian sci-fi novels have let me down. They tend to follow the same road, the same basic ideas. So, I really pause when I come face to face with one. When Attas mentioned, in his review request, that this is a character-driven adventure against a dark setting, I decided to take the leap. Interestingly, it felt more akin to a superhero origin kind of story, not that I even know what that is, but that’s just the general feeling I got.
The Plot: The Making of a Symbol
Quincy has lived with his uncle in the suburban layer of Strand since his parents perished in a crash years ago. They get along, but, as Quincy is about to graduate from the Academy, there’s some conflict as Quincy doesn’t seem “fit” to remain in the upper layers of Strand. Should he be found unworthy of contributing to society, he’ll be downshipped to the wild Nether Layer.
Working with a couple of other revolutionaries seeking to change Strand, Quincy finds himself committing acts he wouldn’t normally, and discovering a silver radio in his late parents’ bedroom that leads him straight into a rebellion years in the making. With nothing to lose, he follows the voice, landing himself in the Nether Layer and at odds with the General running the place.
Life is very different in the Nether Layer, as Quincy quickly discovers, but it might also be the right place to launch the rebellion.
On the surface, the story is quite interesting and clearly dystopian. Strand isn’t perfect, and neither is Quincy, and maybe both are in dire need of change. Quincy’s life seems planned out, though he’s not privy to it, and it creates quite a struggle between society and our struggling artist hero. He falls into the story, the adventure, the rebellion, which makes Strand: The Silver Radio feel something like a vigilante superhero origin story in that he unwittingly becomes a symbol and displays some incredible skills (hard won, though).
At the same time, it was a bit rough. The writing lacked punch and didn’t feel quite as hard hitting as it could have been. It feels like a hard hitting story, what with the complex web surrounding Strand, but the writing doesn’t quite match, so the story wasn’t as powerful as it could have been. It was a bit bland, surprising considering Quincy is supposed to be quite a talented artist. There was also an incredibly complex web the reader is left to puzzle through, kind of as though the reader is given pieces and told to put it somewhere, but with no real depth so it can really make and hold onto a place. There’s very little background given on what’s going on and why, so it felt a little like it was flapping in the wind, a little loose with plot points that were hit, but not smoothly reached in terms of storytelling.
The Characters: All About Quincy
Quincy is our hero. He’s an ordinary kid with a rebellious streak, especially as everyone can’t find a way for him to contribute to society, which is a big no-no in Strand. He’s an artist, a very talented one, but his art skills aren’t needed and, indeed, aren’t mentioned or used enough in the story, so it made him feel like a completely ordinary kid who, because of his parentage, ends up becoming a beacon of hope. Quincy worked hard, darn it, and fought tooth and nail for everything, but it also felt a little too easy, as though that’s what the whole story is about without becoming too cumbersome: Quincy becoming someone.
There were a number of secondary characters, some more interesting than others, especially the pirate Regis Corman that Quincy accidentally befriends, but none of them were really standouts. It was disappointing when characters who seemed to have a big role at the beginning of the book simply vanished. Of course I understand it’s because Quincy ends up in the Nether Layer, but getting some pieces of their perspectives could have smoothed out the story and made the web more intelligible, given it more depth and perhaps some growing horror. There were also characters dropping in literally the entire story, characters who were seen once, maybe twice, and then never seen again, or not seen again because the book was over. It was a little disconcerting to have new characters and new story lines popping up all over the place with no sense of where it was all going.
But I suppose Strand: The Silver Radio is a character-driven story. Their decisions do drive the story, though not necessarily who they are because I honestly didn’t understand any of them enough to figure them out. But, without them, the story wouldn’t have happened. But that’s not really the point of a character-driven story. I wish the characters had been fully developed, had felt like real people making real strides and mistakes that directly affect the world and, thus, the story. Instead, it felt like the characters had to make certain choices in order for certain things to happen, and then the aftermath was incredibly easy.
The Setting: A Tower and a Wild Land
The tower known as Strand is all that’s left in the world. Comprised of 3 layers, the top is the Venter Layer where the truly golden and most contributing members of society live, the middle is the suburban Terra Layer where most of society lives and works, and the bottom layer is the wild Nether Layer where those deemed unfit are sent. It’s all very interesting, especially when you take into account the Augments the people are given so they are able to do the work they are best suited to. But there’s no real history behind Strand, no real understanding of how it operates and how it’s governed. It’s glossed over in favor of the more interesting story. But it holds the reader back from really understanding and visualizing the world (well, expect the Nether Layer, which sounds quite interesting, wild, and kind of fun) and knowing exactly why this story must occur. The world simply exists, but, in order to understand why people would want to bring it down, there must be some real background, some history.
Overall, the overarching story makes sense. Looking closer, though, there are holes I could put my hand through, making it feel a little too jumpy and giving it an odd cinematic feel, as though we get brief cutscenes of someone doing something that will be important later on, but we may never see them again. There’s a lot missing from making this a complete story, as though it’s dependent on the next book to make things really come together. While this is character-driven with an intriguing world, the story feels predictable and the twining story lines too plentiful. Perhaps with greater attention and more space to fill in, Strand: The Silver Radio can be quite a novel.
I really wanted to love this book. I adore character-driven stories, and they usually don’t disappoint. There’s a lot of potential in Strand: The Silver Radio, but it felt like it was rushed and not enough care was taken with the story and the writing. It felt like a teaser for the greater story, and introduction to Quincy and the people around him, though I have no idea how many books there might be following this one. Still, it isn’t terrible. I did like that it felt something like a superhero origin story and gave a purposeless boy not just a purpose but a fresh start, but I felt not enough space was given to fully explore it. Regis Corman, though, is hilarious and he’ll be sailing around in my mind for a while. I just wish all the other characters could have been as interesting, remarkable, and memorable. Instead, they all had a role and stuck to it.
Great if you enjoy: science fiction, dystopia, superhero/vigilante origin stories, quick reads, cinematic books, mild violence, YA, growing cast of characters
Not great if you’re looking for: strong character development and world building, strong writing, strong storytelling
How many cups of tea will you need?
3 cups of tea
Get your copy (The Lily Cafe is NOT an Amazon affiliate)
Thank you to the author, Justin Attas, for a free e-copy. All opinions expressed are my own.
For more book reviews, check out the Bookshelf.