I really enjoyed Outside In when it came out last year so I’ve been looking forward to the second book for a while. I snapped this one up on Netgalley.
Have they gone yet? OK.
The Premise: Trella and her band of Sheep have managed to overthrow the dictatorship of the Pop Cops and the Insiders now know they are in a giant spaceship and that Outside is really Outer Space. The good news for everyone is that their ship has many more levels than they previously thought – plenty of room to expand, but the whole ship suffers from growing pains as a result of the recent changes and revelations. A committee has been created to lead the ship, but it can’t seem to agree on anything, scrubs and uppers still treat each other with the same disdain, and Trella wants nothing more than to explore and let others take care of the current mess.
My Thoughts: The story begins again with Trella trying to get back into her old habits – which are to do her own thing and let others fend for themselves. Although Trella notes that the committee is having difficulties and that there is a general sense of dissatisfaction on the ship, all she wants to do is let someone else take care of the problems for once. She doesn’t feel comfortable making decisions responsible for the people of the ship, but when saboteurs appear, Trella doesn’t hesitate to jump in and help. That Trella is willing to risk her life for people on the ship, but not willing to lead them, frustrates Riley. This frustration is compounded by Trella’s usual reluctance to let him know what is going on.
I thought that the first half of this book was promising, albeit without the same sort of pull that the first book had on me. I felt like there was a little awkwardness in its execution – a lot of dialogue and a plot that feels oddly episodic (a string of events following each other with cliffhanger-ish endings to each that segue into the next event). I had mixed feelings about Riley’s character in this book as well – his reaction to being unhappy with Trella didn’t sit well with me, but I was willing to see where their relationship went. I still felt that the story had some interesting ideas that I was willing to follow where the plot led. I liked that things were not easy for the Insiders – after what happened in Inside In, things aren’t all solved. Instead there’s chaos as people try to figure out what to do next and what their roles are. Although the story wasn’t as strong as the first book’s, the science fiction concepts are interesting enough as an introduction to the genre, and comparing it to a similar book with people in a spaceship (Across the Universe), I felt like I liked this book better. There are a lot more secondary characters which influence the running of the ship and the conflicting personalities made me hope for some compelling drama. The mystery of who was behind the explosions and why also captured my imagination. I wondered what it would take to fix these problems and to get the people of the ship to band together.
Then the concept of Outsiders is introduced. (This is not a spoiler, it’s mentioned in the back blurb).
At first I was still relatively optimistic about this. It seemed to be just the igniter for Trella’s determination to save her ship and for the Insiders to band together. But then the plot sort of dissolved into a bunch of vignettes in which Trella moves forward only to find another setback. One disaster followed another but they happened so quickly, without pause between each that there was no room for Trella to do any self-analysis or any contemplation before she’s moving on into the next fray. The constant action felt forced, and it made events blur into one another in a meaningless jumble. By the time the end came, I found myself disappointed in the direction of the story.
To be honest, in the midst of reading this book, I read a review of it over at the Book Smugglers where Thea pointed out “once the outsiders become known, they change the trajectory of the story, shifting the focus from internal strife to banding together against an external threat – which feels like a writerly cop-out”. I don’t think I am one to be influenced by others opinions but I did read this before the Outsiders began to really influence the plot – take that as you may. I still don’t dislike this book as much as Thea ended up disliking it, but I did end up agreeing with her on the above point.
What compounds my disappointment beyond feeling like using the Outsiders was an easy way out is that with this addition to the story we have the first book all over again. All you have to do is replace the Outsiders with the Pop Cops and the Trava family. Trella begins with her usual exploration, she ignores others, she is pulled into current events, she and others unite against a common enemy. I don’t see anyone else remarking on this, so I am definitely in the minority in seeing this pattern. At any rate, I wish I didn’t see it, because I’d prefer if Outside In was more distinct from its predecessor. When I compare this book to the first one, it makes me wonder if the series was planned beyond book 1. There doesn’t seem to be a long-running story ARC, just a sort of repetition of the same concepts.
Overall: I have mixed feelings. This is still a fine story for newcomers to the science fiction genre. If you loved Beth Revis’ Across the Universe, I’d recommend this – I like it as much if not better. It has plenty of urgency and action as well as a twisty plot. However, Outside In suffered from an awkwardness that I didn’t find in the first book, and the direction of the story was disappointing. I wanted things to be less pat, and more complicated. I wanted harder lessons. I’m not sure how others would weigh the mix of likes and dislikes I had, but they sort of balanced each other out and put this book under “it was OK” in my mind. So I recommend the first book but feel that your mileage may vary on the second.
All Things Urban Fantasy – 4 bats (out of 5)
Galleysmith – mixed review (I had similar feelings to hers)
Squeaky Books – 5/5
Presenting Lenore – 4 zombie chickens (out of 5)
Yummy Men and Kick Ass Chicks – 3.5 (out of 5)
Good Books and Good Wine – positive
Tez Says – positive
Larissa’s Bookish Life – 4 Loveys (out of 5)
Reading with Tequila – 5 shots (out of 5)
The Book Smugglers – 4 (Really Bad)
Genrereviews – 3.5 pints of blood (out of 5)
Calico_reaction – Like, not love