Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Midwinter 2013. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.
“Every single person in the Elysian Fields looks like they’re having the best day of their lives. I guess really it would be the best day of their deaths, since everyone here is dead. But if a single person is sad about being dead, they aren’t showing it. I spot three beach volleyball games, at least fifteen couples making out, and enough sandcastles being built, it’s like an entire kingdom made of sand.”
High school senior Piper Snow lives in Austin, Texas with her mother, but longs to go away to college in California with her best friend, Chloe. Unfortunately for Piper, her mother is extremely protective, having spent eighteen years hiding Piper from her father, a convicted terrorist. Austin, like the rest of the world, is living under the growing threat of the Global Heating Crisis, including deadly heat bubbles which form spontaneously and spike temperatures to heights no human can survive. Piper’s eighteenth birthday sets off a string of unusual events, and when her mother is called away on secretive business, Piper makes a bid for freedom. Piper’s rebellion, unremarkable in any other teen, turns out to have serious consequences, attracting the attention of variety of mythological beings. The crisis in Piper’s world is mirrored by unrest in the realm of the gods. The Underworld has been breached, and the gods are squabbling among themselves. According to the Fates, Piper alone can resolve the crisis, but no one in the supernatural realms seems to be willing or able to help her. Originally independently published in 2011, Solstice has been picked up and released by Tor Teen.
Solstice might be described as Percy Jackson with a female protagonist; Piper, ostensibly a normal human girl, is abruptly thrust into a world of capricious gods and fearsome monsters. Unfortunately, Hoover doesn’t bring Greek mythology to life with nearly the dexterity of Rick Riordan. While some scenes were richly imagined, others felt like they were proscribed by a checklist. Visit to Tartarus: Sisyphus, check; Tantalus, check, etc. In general, Hoover’s above-ground global warming dystopia was much stronger and more interesting than her use of Greek mythology, and I wanted to spend more time in that world.
The mystery of Solstice is relatively thinly veiled. In fact, at the ALA Book Buzz event where I received an ARC, the publisher’s representative stated outright that it was a dystopian retelling of a particular myth. Based on the way this was openly discussed, I was surprised to find that the mystery of Piper’s identity was a key element in the plot. Most readers will figure it out very quickly. Nevertheless, I was curious enough about how and why the events came about to read through to the end. Unfortunately, I had to endure a cast of thoroughly despicable characters—Piper included—to get there.
Perhaps unsurprisingly in a book based on Greek mythology—which is rife with incest, patricide and debauchery—the interpersonal relationships in Solstice are deeply screwed up. Piper does not have a healthy or normal relationship with anyone in her life, including her two new love interests. (Haters of love triangles, this book is not for you). At less than two hundred pages, Solstice is quite fast paced, so that the relationships inevitably feel like the dreaded insta-love. Though the book ultimately explains why the relationships develop so quickly, insta-love is a deal breaker for so many readers that Hoover will likely lose many people long before they ever get to the why. Writers such as Neil Gaiman and Rick Riordan have ably portrayed the unusual character dynamics of the gods in a modern setting, but Hoover has been far less successful.