“The Culling” by Steven dos Santos REVIEW

The Culling

The Culling is the 3rd book that I’ve read this year (first being David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy, and the second being Mark Frost’s The Paladin Prophecy), but it is far and away the best book I’ve read so far – even out of the books I read last year, this one is ahead of them all. It was another book that I was recommended to read by a friend, and my only complaint is the fact that I never read this earlier. I absolutely loved it, and I devoured (“reading” doesn’t quite describe it) it in only a few hours. I started it pretty late at night, about half 9/10ish and although I was tired, there was no way on earth I was putting my Kindle away before that book was finished – so I had another night of sitting up until 12 o’clock, but I am in no way complaining! Here’s a summary of the book:

“Recruitment Day is here…if you fail, a loved one will die

For Lucian “Lucky” Spark, Recruitment Day means the Establishment, a totalitarian government, will force him to become one of five Recruits competing to join the ruthless Imposer task force. Each Recruit participates in increasingly difficult and violent military training for a chance to advance to the next level. Those who fail must choose an “Incentive”—a family member—to be brutally killed. If Lucky fails, he’ll have to choose death for his only living relative: Cole, his four-year-old brother.

Lucky will do everything he can to keep his brother alive, even if it means sacrificing the lives of other Recruits’ loved ones. What Lucky isn’t prepared for is his undeniable attraction to the handsome, rebellious Digory Tycho. While Lucky and Digory train together, their relationship grows. But daring to care for another Recruit in a world where love is used as the ultimate weapon is extremely dangerous. As Lucky soon learns, the consequences can be deadly…”

It is relatively similar to The Hunger Games – it’s dystopian, they’re forced to take part in this Recruitment Day, and even the beginning of the novel made me think of the opening pages of Suzanne Collins’ book; what with Lucky being worried about the Recruitment Day, his little brother waking from a nightmare, and even the fact that he was sneaking out to be somewhere he shouldn’t be. But that’s where the similarities end. I’m a huge fan of The Hunger Games, but after reading The Culling those books just seem tedious in comparison.

Firstly, there’s so much more at stake than just your own life – if you fail a Trial, you have to pick one of your two Incentives (family members, friends, those you love the most…) to be killed in absolutely horrific ways – having their head lopped off, stung to death by hundreds upon hundreds of bees,  that kind of thing. Those who have been Recruited have to choose who they want to kill. It’s just so horrible. However, it’s also very effective – although the 5 who have been Recruited (Digory, Lucky, Ophelia, Gideon, and Cypress) work together at many points throughout the novel, there’s no doubt during the Trials that it’s every man for himself, so that they don’t have to be the one to send their loved ones to their death. Between Lucky, Digory, even Cyrpuss and to an extent Gideon you can tell that, although none of them want to finished last, they will try and help each other if possible – in particular Lucky and Digory, who end up becoming each other’s second Incentives. Ophelia, on the other hand… a whole different kettle of fish, that girl.

Ophelia genuinely terrifies me. Honestly, I don’t think a fictional character has ever scared me so much. She just seems so calm and innocent at times – when we first introduced to her, I hated her and she really annoyed me – but then in the blink eye, she’s so vicious and savage, before suddenly turning round with the sweetest expression on her face! It’s scary how someone can go from being so nice, but still obviously scared, to being the kind of person who cuts off a girl’s arm so she doesn’t come last in the Trial. It’s just…how does that happen?! And it’s just really eerie how quickly she snaps back into being the stereotypical sweet girl – in fact, that’s another thing I liked. She can be so sickly sweet, but then suddenly she’s honestly one of the scariest characters I’ve ever read? Writing a character like that is one thing, but pulling it off is a whole different matter. Steven dos Santos does that extremely well. Whilst staying on the subjects of the villains in the book, Cassius, whilst not a completely main character, is just amazing. At first, I thought he was being really nice to Lucky and, although I was a bit suspicious of him, I believed him. But then, when the final Recruit is chosen but doesn’t appear, everything that happened after that just had me sitting there, stunned. I mean, although there was definitely a build–up to what happened, happening, I was still so shocked that it had happened in such a way – Lucky was supposed to mean something to Cassius, yet Cassius turns around and does that to Lucky?! Cassius was definitely one of my favourite characters, although he only appeared briefly, but I really hope that he’s developed in the next book!

Cypruss, Gideon, Digory and Lucky were equally well–written and I didn’t get bored hearing about them at all. It was too hard for me to pick a favourite out of them, but I definitely held a soft spot for Cypruss, especially after her sacrifice. Gideon’s a character I was quite iffy with throughout; I liked him at times, but then he would say or do something that just really annoyed me – but then when you found out what happened to him, that changed for me and I started to quite like him. The end for him, though… Broke my heart. Lucky, the main character, is far and away one of my favourite main characters ever – he was great. He wasn’t written in a way that would piss you off eventually because he’s thinking or doing stupid things; instead he’s a character who is concentrating on winning so that he doesn’t have to choose between killing off his only family, his 4 year old brother Cole, or Digory – the very same Digory who was Recruited right alongside him. I’m not going to say anything else on why I like the characters, because I will end up spoiling something, but I absolutely loved all of them, which is a very unusual thing for me.

One of the main things I loved about this book is how, although you know the romance between Digory and Lucky is there, it’s not a really in–your–face one and it’s definitely not a focal point. Yes, it’s relatively important to some aspects of the book, but a huge deal isn’t made out of it – going back to the comparison to The Hunger Games, the “love triangle” is focused on too much (in my opinion) and it really takes away from the point of the books, and frankly just ruins the books for me. I can understand with Peeta and the Capitol – that made some sense – but having to create a whole love triangle was just pointless. Fortunately, Steven dos Santos doesn’t do that and it just improves the whole book so much! It was also nice that the romance between Digory and Lucky didn’t read as an overly stereotypical “gay” romance which some books can be prone to doing, rather this read just like a straight pairing. I just felt that it was nice that a big deal wasn’t made about the characters being gay, and none of the other characters had a problem either.

All in all, I absolutely loved The Culling – it was fast paced, extremely well–written, had fantastic characters, the twists were amazing, and some of it was just utterly brutal. So, everything I look for in a book! I highly recommend this book, and I cannot wait for the sequel!  

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