Review | Variant by Robison Wells

Variant (Variant, #1)

Reading Variant was reminiscent of a winter toboggan ride on a steep, snow covered hill. Fast, furious and short, it is only when I screech to a stop at the bottom of the hill am I able to look back and see everything that I had flown by on my haphazard downward journey.

In other words, Variant is quite a fast ride.

Benson Fisher is a foster child who thinks he’s found a way out of the system. Not unlike Bron from David Farland‘s Nightingale, Fisher is above average, enjoys learning, and has proved himself to be enough of an achiever to obtain a scholarship to an elite private school in the backwoods of New Mexico. (It’s an odd description of an older teen whose life has been spent in foster care, but more on that later).

When he is unceremoniously dropped off at Maxfield Academy, it’s immediately clear that something isn’t right. Fisher soon realizes that there are no teachers and that breaking the rules could mean death. By then, his ride is long gone, and he has no way to leave.

Robison Wells moves the story at a breakneck pace, and it’s hard to fault him for creating a thrilling story that pulls the reader in and speeds them along. It’s a page turner that’s well suited to young adults and teens. Written in the first person, it has an urgency that will keep teens satisfied and reaching for the sequel, Feedback.

And yet, as exciting as the Variant plot is, sometimes it felt like the pace got in the way of the character development. While we get to know Fisher more than most (after all, it is his perspective we’re reading from), the majority of the cast seems to be stuck in time. Wells does a good job of filling in details sufficient to give them color and personality, but it’s hard to see them as three dimensional.

Perhaps this fits, though. Variant is owes as much to thrillers as it does to the Twilight Zone, though, and readers might not require the level of depth that other young adult novels might provide. After all, Fisher is more concerned with staying alive and escaping than he is with all that a teenager might deal with growing up, especially one who has spent much of his life in foster care.

That’s biggest rub for me. I’m not one generally inclined to an overabundance of feelings, emotions or drama–I’ve never been able to stomach a Stephenie Meyer novel, for instance–but I do want the protagonist to be credible and sympathetic. It’s hard not to be sympathetic with Fisher who comes across as a typical teenager who enjoys the same movies and activities that any teen would enjoy. However, it’s also hard to believe that a life lived in foster care would not affect him more than it appears to have. (And how does a foster kid from Pennsylvania get to New Mexico? There’s no way the state of Pennsylvania would have let a ward of the state leave the state by himself).

Variant is a good read, though, and I won’t complain too much. Wells kept me turning pages, and I suspect this would make a great movie. Pick it up, and enjoy an evening lost turning pages.

Parent’s guide:

  • Sex: One of three rules at the school is “No sex.” And so there isn’t any, referenced or otherwise.
  • Language: I don’t recall any swearing or foul language.
  • Violence: A bit. Kids fight, repeated reference to teens killing and beating each other, a girl is implied to have been beaten off-screen with a pipe, and there is an intense fight scene near the end. None is graphic.

Sound interesting? Do the author a favor and order a copy from Amazon. It puts bread on their table and helps them keep writing.

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About Daniel

Daniel Burton lives in Salt Lake County, Utah, where he practices law by day and everything else by night. He reads about history, politics, and current events, as well as more serious genres such as science fiction and fantasy. You can also follow him on his blog where he muses on politics, the law, books and ideas.