Hey. Long time no see, huh? Well, I’ve got a few more book reviews that I plan to get out this December, I might write some more general posts in January, and in February I think I’ll continue sporking Maximum Ride. I was so close to finishing it and the time away has let me recharge my sporking batteries. Anyway, here’s this review.
Proxy presents an exaggerated, future, debt-based dystopia (say that five times fast), in which almost all of North America’s population has funneled into a single Mountain City. In the city, wealth is cleanly split between Patrons and Proxies; these names arise from the symbiotic relationship that makes the Mountain City turn. Proxies acquire debt from high costs for basic goods, and in return Patrons relieve the Proxies’ debts in exchange for Proxies taking on the Patrons’ legal punishments. So if patron commits a crime, they are functionally only fined, and their Proxy works in a labor camp or takes physical punishment, etc. It’s not a particularly believable or logical system, but then, Proxy never tries to take its world too seriously. Trying to do that–take the world seriously–left me a bit cold at the beginning of the novel, but once one embraces the conceits that Proxy makes, it’s an engrossing, fun read.
There are two primary viewpoint characters in Proxy: Knox, a teenage Patron who’s constantly in trouble, and Syd, Knox’s Patron (and also a teenager; Proxies are assigned at the same age as their Patron) who is only looking to skate by unnoticed and escape his debt as soon as possible. When Knox is involved in a fatal car crash, however, Syd is faced with sixteen years of hard labor and hatches a plan to escape the city. Naturally, the two boys end up working together; Alex London wisely doesn’t spend too much time on animosity between the two, allowing them to fall in together with relative ease. Knox is more concerned with displeasing his father than showing disdain for Syd, and Syd is welcome for the assistance.
There is an odd prosaic choice in their involvement, however, as when the two characters are in the same scene (which is most of the second two thirds of the book), the narrative uses both their viewpoints, switching between them on a whim, often paragraph to paragraph. This is sometimes confusing with the tight third person narration, which will make remarks about the world and other characters without it immediately being evident who made said remarks. It’s increasingly problematic further into the book, when a third character is introduced and the narration sometimes, but rarely, peeks into her head. It ends up feeling awkward and a bit lazy; London probably could have made a stronger book if he had strictly alternated between viewpoints by chapter or scene and made his characters’ interiority more relevant. It’s not a major complaint, though.
Both Knox and Syd are well drawn as characters: Knox spends most of the book in a largely unlikable state, as a willing participant in a corrupt system, but giving him a viewpoint allows him to be sympathetic and his arc (which I won’t spoil) works well. Syd is the obviously more likable character, but fits into the narrative somewhat trickily; for plot reasons, he is arguably the protagonist, but within the plot he’s a largely passive character, intent more on survival than conveying an agenda, but not to the point where he forsakes an agenda. So in the meta plot, past his escape from the Mountain City, he functions more as a body than an active player. Knox is similarly unconcerned with agendas (which I leave unspecific for the sake of spoilers), and so after the escape from the Mountain City the plot drags not just because the excitement has peaked, but because the characters are developing in ways mostly unrelated to the plot. The last quarter of the books is thus somewhat awkward, with the plot mostly there to serve character work that doesn’t stand on its own well enough to warrant being propped up by the plot.
Proxy is never boring, however. Alex London’s clean, evocative prose keeps things moving at the right pace, deftly juggling prosaic action with character thought and keeping action scenes exciting. His dialogue, too, is good, clearly reflecting each character in their word choice and sentence structure.
On the subject of diversity, Proxy is a mixed bag. Syd is a person of color (“brown” by his own description; the book’s world seems to have moved past region-based descriptors of race) and gay, and an important character is ethnically Jewish (if not religiously, as our current religions have been mostly lost), but out of six major characters, only one is a woman. It’s a pretty stark disparity that left me disappointed.
When reading Proxy, I had many little annoyances that left me feeling it was only okay once I had finished it. Now, however, a few days later, I can’t even remember the annoyances; all I remember is that the book engrossed me enough that I read it in a single day. That seems like high praise enough: Proxy is engaging and fun, and that’s the part I think is most important. If you’re willing to look past the lack of female characters, I’d definitely recommend it.