Published: 4th October 2011
Genre: Science Fiction, YA
Recommended Reading Age: 14+
‘Benson Fisher thought that a scholarship to Maxfield Academy would be the ticket out of his dead-end life.
He was wrong.
Now he’s trapped in a school that’s surrounded by a razor-wire fence. A school where video cameras monitor his every move. Where there are no adults. Where the kids have split into groups in order to survive
Where breaking the rules equals death.
But when Benson stumbles upon the school’s real secret, he realizes that playing by the rules could spell a fate worse than death, and that escape-his only real hope for survival; may be impossible.’
I saw this cover on NetGalley and my immediate thought was ‘Oooo‘ and ‘Want’. Luckily, Harper Collins was kind enough to grant me my request (even though I failed at getting this review out before the publication date).
I pretty much finished Variant in one sitting. A fairly suspenseful read, with an easy going narrative, it definitely had its creepy moments. I don’t often read books that have the creep factor as I tend to stay away from horror, but Variant was just the right amount of unnerving for me without any blood or gore.
It isn’t long before you get the feeling that things aren’t quite right about Maxfield Academy. Secluded and isolated, a social worker who drops you off but won’t come in with you, children banging and shouting through the windows at you as you arrive, warnings from two students who run past you at the front door. Yeah, I’d be unsettled too Benson.
Though I was very interested in the story, I felt pretty indifferent towards the characters; aside from Becky, who I was curious about since her loyalties aren’t quite clear. Benson is a likable enough hero. He can fight, stands up to bullies, has determination and is probably clever enough to attempt an escape, but he’s also forgettable. His strong desire for freedom all happened far too quickly, yet he doesn’t actively do much about it either.
I was puzzled when none of the other kids even tried to leave, a lot of them seemed to have just accepted the situation. It’s primarily fear keeping the children from working together and walking out, which I could actually understand, given how children are dragged from their beds in the middle of the night, never to be seen again, merely for misbehaving. But I found it strange that Benson is the only one even questioning it all. However, there is a plot twist midway through the book that could account everyone’s, including Benson’s, actions in the book.
Variant keeps you guessing, and does do a 180 on you part of the way through. Aside from getting completely sidetracked by overly long descriptions of paintballing, it’s good read – a disconcerting story with enough action and mystery to keep the reader entertained, though with a cliffhanger that will annoy some readers. I was unaware this was a series when I first picked it up, and while I’ll happily read the sequel, I think it probably could have worked just as well, if not better, as a stand alone.
*Many thanks to Harper Collins Publishers and NetGalley for making this available for review*