Title: The Culling
* Series: The Torch Keeper #1
Author: Steven Dos Santos
Pages: Paperback; 421
Release Date: March 8, 2013
Content Screening: Violence
HDB Rating: 4 Keys to My Heart
Recommended to: Fans of gritty dystopian fiction with strong characters.
Recruitment Day is here...if you fail, a loved one will die...
For Lucian “Lucky” Spark, Recruitment Day means the Establishment, a totalitarian government, will force him to become one of five Recruits competing to join the ruthless Imposer task force. Each Recruit participates in increasingly difficult and violent military training for a chance to advance to the next level. Those who fail must choose an “Incentive”—a family member—to be brutally killed. If Lucky fails, he’ll have to choose death for his only living relative: Cole, his four-year-old brother.
Lucky will do everything he can to keep his brother alive, even if it means sacrificing the lives of other Recruits’ loved ones. What Lucky isn’t prepared for is his undeniable attraction to the handsome, rebellious Digory Tycho. While Lucky and Digory train together, their relationship grows. But daring to care for another Recruit in a world where love is used as the ultimate weapon is extremely dangerous. As Lucky soon learns, the consequences can be deadly...
I'd been eyeing The Culling ever since I first saw it pop up on Goodreads. I'm a huge fan of dystopian novels, but never in my reading history had I seen one with a gay male protagonist! Let's be honest, male leads are few and far between in dystopia as it is. One from the LBGT community though? Unheard of. Thus I couldn't help but jump up and down with glee when I was given the opportunity to read an early copy of this book. Even better? It absolutely didn't disappoint!
Now before you lament over the similarities between this and another very popular series out there, let me assure you that Steven Dos Santos' book is well worth your time. While there are parallels, I honestly couldn't say I loved one over the other. Think Battle Royale and you'll have a good idea of this book. Much bloodier, much grittier, way more action. The Establishment is a heartless, evil government in a bleak and brutal world. People suffer and people die. If you're not okay with violence in your reading, this isn't a book for you.
Honestly, what I loved most of all were the characters. Lucian is a very likable protagonist. He cares for his brother, and wants nothing more than safety for the two of them. Watching him slowly learn that the world around him doesn't pull punches is heartrending. Then Dos Santos throws in the other recruits and my whole life was turned upside down. Ranging from kind to utterly sadistic, each one brings their own brand of crazy to the story. I loved that the author wasn't afraid to show the dark side of people who are being forced to compete to survive.
I think what really made this a stand out read for me was the simple fact that there isn't a barrier between the reader and the characters. I felt what they felt, saw what they saw, and hurt when they hurt. There were some things that weren't fully explained for me, but I'm hopeful the next book will wrap them up. Again, I know this book is similar to others out there and yet I still stand by my opinion that it shines on its own just fine. The brutality might shock you, but the underlying themes of friendship, family, and romance will keep you reading.
FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. I was not monetarily compensated for my opinion.