My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Before reading this book, I read a few of the reviews on GoodReads, and people have had decidedly mixed feelings about the book. While I can empathize with both people who loved it and those who didn’t care for it, I ended up actually enjoying it quite a bit.
Although there were definitely some moments of weak writing, like that first kissing scene someone pointed out in an earlier review (“He is good at this. I am good at this. We are good at this.”), overall I found the characters to be believable, the story to be compelling, and the flow and use of language to be beautiful. I liked, as well, that Atlantia is a stand-alone title, and not the first in a new series. Although young adults flock to series books as a general rule, I also get requests for stories that stand alone from students who just want to inhabit a world for a little while and have a satisfying conclusion without having to commit themselves to multiple books.
I also very much liked Condie’s skillful weaving of fantasy, science fiction and some dystopian/post-apocalyptic elements into the story. And the journey of the heroine, Rio, is very much a hero’s journey. Initially very much focused on her own selfish wishes and disappointments, by the end of the book Rio has discovered a greater purpose to her life, although not without some hardship along the way. Rio lives in the underwater city of Atlantia, a city that was built after humans on the surface of the earth had sullied the environment to the point where it was verging on uninhabitable. Some from each family, generally the young, were chosen to get to live in the below and be safe from the disastrous environment on the surface, and those left above provide the city with food and supplies. Rio, born below, has always dreamed of living in the Above. But after her mother the Minister dies under suspicious circumstances, her twin sister Bay makes Rio promise that she will stay below with her. But on the day of the choosing, after Rio dutifully chooses to stay below, it is Bay who chooses to go above, much to the surprise and dismay of Rio. She doesn’t understand why her sister, who always loved Atlantia so much, would choose to leave, and she especially doesn’t understand why she didn’t tell her, but just abandoned her.
There is more going on in Atlantia than it seems on the surface, however, and soon Rio is right in the thick of it. Because Rio is special, and different, something she has kept hidden her whole life — she is a siren. Just like her Aunt Maire. Who may have been responsible for Rio’s mother’s death…