With Crecheling, D.J. Butler defies YA genre stereotypes to create a dystopian future that is vibrant and dangerous, where characters act like real people, and where death and pain are real and unavoidable, even for his heroes. The result is a story that is gripping, characters that are sympathetic, and a plot that grows under momentum that increases until the last pages.
For the most part, I avoid reading young adult fiction, including those that might otherwise consider because they are in genres I might enjoy (i.e. science fiction or fantasy), especially in recent years when YA has exploded as a genre. It seems like I can’t turn around without bumping into the last young adult dystopian/urban fantasy romance, complete with zombies, vampires, or oppressive Nazi types. Some are probably very good, but so many seem dripping with the angst that irritated me even when I was a young adult (or, as is probably a better label, a teenager) myself that I’m turned off by the characters. Because of that, I probably would never have picked out Butler’s Crecheling except that I had already read his City of Saints (steam punk set in the old west) and his Rock Band Fights Evil: Hellhound on My Trail (urban fantasy, I think), and found myself thoroughly entertained. Still, it took a few months to pick it up.
It didn’t take long to regret my delay. Crecheling starts of with a coming-of-age feel, with Dyan preparing to leave her childhood an accept a role in the utopian community that has raised her. There’s hope, a romance, and a perfect society, and, to be honest, it seems like a decent place to live.
Except that it’s nothing like what it seems, and as the pages turned, the stakes grow and Dyan’s coming-of-age tale becomes something much more dangerous, more of a “will I survive?” tale that is more credible and more interesting. At its heart, Butler appears to examine the question that so many dystopian novels address in one way or another–can a perfect society be created without abusing the humanity of its members–but it’s easy to forget that there’s a moral question at play while his heroes are fighting to stay alive. No, it’s not The Hunger Games, but rather something more subtle and credible than a spectator sport with life or death stakes. Yes, life or death is on the line, but in a way that can be believed, sans the faux romance (yes, there’s still romance–we’re talking about teens, here. It’s just not so forced).
I ran into Butler at Salt Lake Comic Con this last month, and he says that he’s working on a sequel to Crecheling (I think he said Urbane is the working title). Butler’s writing never really gives you the whole picture, and you never really know more than the characters, which isn’t much. But the effect is like a flashlight in a dark room–you see glimpses of a vast and detailed world, one that provides a setting, but never gets in the way of the story. Butler’s proved himself in his previous novels, and I look forward to Urbane.