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Book Review: Dualed by Elsie Chapman

You or your alt, only 1 will survive.

In Chapman’s vision of the future, families give birth to a child who has an “alt” in the world; another child that is a combination of the two families DNA.  At some point, you are activated and then you have 30 days to kill your alt or be killed by it.  Only one can survive.

Synopsis: The city of Kersh is a safe haven, but the price of safety is high. Everyone has a genetic Alternate—a twin raised by another family—and citizens must prove their worth by eliminating their Alts before their twentieth birthday. Survival means advanced schooling, a good job, marriage—life.

Fifteen-year-old West Grayer has trained as a fighter, preparing for the day when her assignment arrives and she will have one month to hunt down and kill her Alt. But then a tragic misstep shakes West’s confidence. Stricken with grief and guilt, she’s no longer certain that she’s the best version of herself, the version worthy of a future. If she is to have any chance of winning, she must stop running not only from her Alt, but also from love . . . though both have the power to destroy her.

Elsie Chapman’s suspenseful YA debut weaves unexpected romance into a novel full of fast-paced action and thought-provoking philosophy. When the story ends, discussions will begin about this future society where every adult is a murderer and every child knows there is another out there who just might be better. (from Goodreads)

Since I mentioned Dualed in my Mind Games review earlier today, I thought I should go ahead and review it.  Dualed joins a growing list of post Hunger Games seeming books where we see kids killing kids in some sort of test to see who will survive and to try and build the “best” possible society.  There are elements of the story that are interesting, although also quite disturbing.  As hard as it is to imagine going into some type of arena to fight to the death, it is even harder to imagine a world where there is another with the same DNA mix out there that you must assassinate.  Some background is given for how this version of the world came to be, but it is hard to imagine that there was a lot of buy in to this scenario.  The very premise of this book stretches credibility and plausibility to extremes, which means that  the others elements must be spot on to create buy in from your readers.  Unfortunately, they don’t.

Our main character is West, who begin our story anxious to train.  After the first few chapters, she has literally lost everything.  And yet, when she is activated, she goes on the run.  This element of the story was problematic for two reasons: 1) it was inconsistent with how her character is initially portrayed and 2) it slowed the pace and gave you a lot of time to think about the first issue.

“Be the one, be worthy.”
Elsie Chapman, Dualed 

There are elements of the world building that are done well, some behind the scene touches, such as the way that West avoids key areas because of the check-ins required, that illustrate that Chapman has spent some time really developing her story, which is why the parts that don’t work stand out so much.  West has literally gone out and killed any number of alts for pay, so why does she go on the run when she is asked to kill her own?  I can imagine that there would be a lot of psychological issues that come in to play when you are asked to kill someone who in a sense is another version of yourself, but that element needed to be more deeply explored.

Dualed lacked a real emotional connection, the inconsistently and under development of West’s character creates a barrier to attachment, or even understanding.  And there are very few characters here.  Even Chord, the supposed love interest, spends a great deal of his time watching over West in the shadows and keeping his distance, so there is not a lot of opportunity to develop any feelings here either.  And although there are flourishes of insight into this strange world, it too has a coldness about it that keeps readers at an emotional distance, it doesn’t fully explore the how and why of this world.  In the end, Chapman has created a cold, violent world that is hard to understand with no real characters to cheer on and no real meat to discuss.  This is an optional purchase. 2.5 out of 5 stars.