Two hundred years in the future, long after the final nuclear war, women rule America with an iron fist. Men are second class citizens, raised in cities designated by numbers where they eventually work as slaves in fields, factories, and mills. Knowledge of their existence is limited only to the female mayors of the cities and those women stationed to work in the numbered towns as teachers--and wardens.
Each boy receives a microchip, implanted as the base of the neck at birth, that allows them to be controlled by their female guardians. With the press of a button on their wristband "remotes", any woman can initiate an electric charge as "punishment" for a boy that is out of line, working too slow, or merely looking at them the wrong way. Needless to say, there is no lack of sadists among the powers that be.
Meanwhile, the most promising girls and career women grow up and work in luxurious "color" cities (think Blue City, Green City, Yellow City). Here, the most a teenager needs to worry about is planning her "Amora", a ceremony/dance party that occurs on her seventeenth birthday. Each "Amora" is presided over by the mayor who presents to the birthday girl her "Like", a customized male companion programmed to adore her mindlessly and serve her every need. Wonder where they come from?
Apparently, none of the girls do nor they seem to care if their "Like" even has a past. No questions are asked as each girl starts a new phase of her life with her 'Stepford' boyfriend.
It's just the way of things, why question it?
Until one Saturday night when Morgan Waters attends the "Amora" for her best friend, Lainey. Near the end of ceremony, before the 11PM curfew, the dance hall fills with smoke as a special effect--an anathema to Morgan who suffers from breathing problems. As the smoke fills her lungs, Morgan becomes disoriented and stumbles into a supply closet where she promptly blacks out.
It just so happens that on Saturday nights, the boys from City 4 come to Blue City for maintenance. They are the janitors and their work is performed after the women's curfew. Thus, the boys are invisible to all but their overseers. On this particular Saturday night, however, seventeen year old Neil enters the supply closet and finds more than mops and buckets.
Any male who is not a "Like" cannot be seen by a woman in the colored cities. If they do, the blame instantly falls on the boy and punishment is severe. However, Morgan becomes curious and manages to strike up a brief conversation with the frightened Neil. What she learns from him both confuses and concerns her. She must know more. Emboldened, Morgan buys clothes that match what the boys wear and sneaks off after curfew to visit City 4 to be with Neil. As the horrific truth of her society unfolds, how will she handle the knowledge? Can she keep what she learns contained as her own "Amora" approaches?
Morgan finds herself lost in a life that once held nothing but comfort and direction. Who can she trust as she digs further into the darkest secrets of her world? Meanwhile, Neil and his eloquent, charismatic roomate Han have been doing some detective work of their own as they watch their eighteen year old friends begin to disappear without a trace.
I recently reviewed Kieryn Nicolas' first novel, Rain, a contemporary teen espionage story. While an admirable debut, Flawless Ruins is a clear example of a writer improving and growing in her craft. While there are many familiar elements in the story from the post-war dystopian society (in this case, "Big Sister") to mind control (in the vein of Stepford Wives) to a select few rebels who question authority and seek answers, Nicolas combines these deftly as she weaves a complete and believable setting.
Compared to RAIN, the characters in Flawless Ruins are stronger, the pacing is quicker, and story far more moving. I cared about Morgan, Neil, and Han. I wanted Morgan to rescue the boys from their abusers and to see Neil and Morgan fall in love as they expose the evils of their soceity. Call me a hopeless romantic, I don't care. Flawless Ruins was freakin' fantastic.
I look forward to seeing Nicolas tackle increasingly challenging themes as her writing continues to mature.