Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Review: Persona by Genevieve Valentine

Persona by Genevieve Valentine
Published: Saga Press, 2015
Series: Book 1 of the Persona Sequence

The Book:

“When Suyana, Face of the United Amazonia Rainforest Confederation, is secretly meeting Ethan of the United States for a date that can solidify a relationship for the struggling UARC, the last thing she expected was an assassination attempt.

Daniel, a teen-runaway-turned-paparazzi out for his big break, witnesses the first shot hit Suyana, and before he can think about it, he jumps into the fray, telling himself it's not altruism, it's the scoop. Now Suyana and Daniel are on the run--and if they don't keep one step ahead, they'll lose it all.”

This is the first book I’ve read by Genevieve Valentine, though I initially planned to read some of her work when Mechanique was receiving award attention. I am not into circus stories (though I’ve heard some great things about Mechanique), so I held off and planned to read one of her future novels.  Now, the time is here, and on with the review of Persona!

My Thoughts:

Persona is a short, fast-paced thriller set in an unusual near-future.  In this world, politics has been merged with celebrity, for the purpose of keeping the general public entertained.  Each country has its own ‘Face’, an attractive young person that becomes the personification of their country to the world.  Faces don’t truly wield political power (that falls to the real politicians behind the scenes), but their carefully arranged romances, friendships and scandals draw global attention to their countries. Considering the role celebrity and the meaningless scrutiny of private lives currently plays in American politics, I can see this as an extrapolation from the present. The other major change in this future society is the illegalization of the free press (if I understood correctly), which I find much harder to believe.  Transparency and freedom of information are so strongly idealized, I don’t think most countries would take their destruction easily.  There was not much time to flesh out the worldbuilding in this brief novel, but it is also the first of a series that I expect will eventually provide the answers to the remaining questions.   

Suyana and Daniel’s story moves forward with high momentum, and their experiences slowly reveal their world and the secrets beneath the reality-TV veneer.  Flashbacks of Suyana’s life fill in the blanks of the political system and her place in it.  The whole novel takes place over a relatively short length of time, so I liked that the flashbacks provided a bit more of a foundation for understanding the protagonists.  In general, I also felt like this story would translate exceptionally well to a visual medium, both due to the trendiness and visual appeals of the dystopian premise as well as the similarity of the plot’s arc to a cinematic thriller.  It would make for an unusual film, too, since few of the characters are white.  In fact, I even found an interview from last year where Valentine put together her own dream cast.  In terms of its appeal as a novel, though, the pacing and action made it exciting and often hard to put down.

I enjoyed the perspective of the two protagonists, even when I wasn’t alway completely convinced by their motivations.  For instance, I did not altogether buy the speed with which Daniel’s loyalty to Suyana developed, especially since it sometimes seemed to lead him to act against his own interests in ways that would propel the plot. All the same, I was curious to see how both Suyana the ‘Face’ and Daniel the ‘Snap’ coped with the ridiculous demands their society makes on them. I appreciated the parallels between their two positions, how both of their paths involve the sacrifice of authenticity and privacy.  As a Face, Suyana makes her life into a performance, though she fights to keep some free will behind the scenes.  As a Snap, Daniel’s life is an open book to his superiors, and any action he takes against them could have deadly consequences.  They both take face similar cages, and their roles even force them to be isolated from one another. I’m interested to see how this will progress, and to see if either of them can find a way to build a life with integrity.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Persona gives an entertaining look at a near future with no free press and public global politics that have devolved into essentially celebrity reality-TV.  In this world we follow Suyana, a low profile political ‘Face’, and the illegal paparazzi, Daniel, who rescues her during an assassin attempt. The story is fast-paced, with details filled in along the way, and I hope there will be more information on how the current society came to be in future novels. Though Persona is the first book of a series, it also tells an exciting story that comes to a satisfying close.  I’m looking forward to the release of the next novel, Icon, this June, to see where Suyana and Daniel’s lives will lead them next.

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