Specials by Scott Westerfeld

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Specials by Scott Westerfeld

Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Not quite on a par with the others, but this series closer will be essential reading for many, and won't exactly disappoint.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: March 2010
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Books
ISBN: 978-1847389084

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In the un-named city of the future, all the adults are living in the delusion that their city is right. After a teenage life as an ugly, they all undergo a welter of medical procedures, to make their minds and bodies conform to the bland, but gorgeous, society norm. But one young woman is not like that. She is going to a party, looking ugly, and she knows it is not what we look like, but how special we feel inside, that is of most importance. The good news is that this woman is our returning heroine, Tally. The bad news is that her ugliness is a temporary disguise, and worse than that - she knows how to feel special inside, because she IS A Special.

I wish I had been in at the start with this series. I assume, at least, however quickly they all came out, that there was a time when we didn't know before we started that the title of the books were the status of Tally. It would have been a shock to see her become a Special - one of the horrid, vulpine Gestapo-type agents - and to go from there to seeing her taking control of her own choices in life, including appearance, and possibly putting her city-state to rights.

It's a pity we don't see this happening right from the start with this third book. As peculiar as it is to say, considering Tally has operated so much previously due to the medical conditioning she's undergone, and the will of Dr Cable and the other villains, there is too much at the opening here that sees Tally obeying orders, and being under the thumb of someone else. We get a lot less of Tally's own personality, and decisions, now they've been doctored so much, so this opening third is the least satisfactory part of the whole trilogy so far.

Part of that I put down to Scott Westerfeld, and his talents of getting into his creation's mind for us. Yes, I did have minor, minor quibbles with the beginnings of both earlier books - we were sucked so well into Tally's thoughts that some of the writing seemed counter-productive. Uglies had to make sure we knew being prettified was a bad thing, so Tally starts completely eager to have it done. Pretties meant we needed to see the difference between a regular person, and those put into a permanent blonde moment, so we were faced with a lot of slang and so on to see the world as Tally does. Here we do so, and it's expected, and important, but there is a zip missing from it all as we do.

Still, it leaves a host of questions regarding the plot for us to lap up the answers to. How, with all the returning characters leaking into things, can Tally become her own person for the first time, and will she have enough pages left to get her city thinking the way we would like?

And once again we're encountering the special verve of Westerfeld, and the pacey but surprising plots he can give us and Tally. We get more of her engaging character in the second third, as she again finds herself reflecting on, as well as using, her new status and what it means for her and all her friends. And the kinetic energy of the final third rightfully puts Tally as a woman at the centre of something very big - but nothing she can't handle. Or can she...?

So the trilogy didn't sustain itself to its own high quality right to the final page, but it still stands as a great work. It's not exclusively for the girls, but there has seldom been a sci-fi adventure series that they would enjoy as much. It drives us through with a realistic way of making a superhero out of a nobody (by the simple premise of a society happy to make anything it wants out of anybody), and provides psychologically realistic problems for everybody in these pages - although I did quibble at how easily Dr Cable let the Cutters run riot here.

Moreover it hits on many things the young women of its audience should be willing to look at - the cosmetic side of their world, where looks are everything - makeup maketh not the man, one might say. Here there are references to a future ridden with eco-problems, where the society inside them rallies against human nature in a very evil manner. But at least it has got rid of anorexia among copious other problems those with mirrors hoist on themselves. And self-harming does so seldom feature as a further case in point among sci-fi metaphors.

Similarly the series is valuable for the adult reader, and I certainly found much to entertain me in these 1200 pages. At times I fell through them headlong, and certainly needed my gravity cuffs to bring me to earth safely. The action scenes here, as elsewhere in the trilogy, are very vivid, and just one more benefit from this worthwhile and enjoyable series.

I must thank Simon and Schuster for sending me them as review copies.

Scott's latest series started with Leviathan.

Buy Specials by Scott Westerfeld at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Specials by Scott Westerfeld at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Specials by Scott Westerfeld at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Specials by Scott Westerfeld at Amazon.com.


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