Rebellion (Divided Elements)

Book cover: Rebellion - Mikhaeyla KopievskyAnaiya is a Hero of Otpor, the Peacekeeper who brought a Heterodox traitor to justice. But her time undercover has stripped her of her aptitude – and appetite – for her role. Caught between the Elements of Fire and Air, can she learn to live differently without condemning herself as Heterodox?  

Rebellion is the sequel to Resistance, continuing Mikhaeyla Kopievsky’s exploration of society vs self in a post-apocalyptic dystopian utopia. I was intrigued by Kopievsky’s glossy debut, which featured at times provocative ideas in an easily-digestible package, and I was curious to see how she would develop her themes in Rebellion.

The Co-operative of Otpor can only thrive in the dead Wasteland so long as all its citizens accept their conditioning and fulfil the roles they test best for. Citizens must have no loyalties except adherence to Orthodoxy, which governs every aspect of their lives based on the Element they are born into. In return, their needs are met – jobs, homes, food, healthcare, and access to entertainment that offers distraction without subversion. There’s no room for notions that could tempt Elementals to identify with something other than Otpor, such as family (children are bred in artificial wombs and raised by educators a la Brave New World) or team sports; and very limited space for concepts such as religion – or the individual. Birth Element forms both the backbone of society and its greatest weakness, generating ingrained prejudice around expected traits and acceptable behaviours.

Anaiya is now unOrthodox at best – born into Fire (athletic, logical, aggressive) and conditioned as an elite Peacekeeper (yes, effectively assigned cop at birth), but secretly re-aligned as an Air (emotional, creative, volatile) composer to go undercover with the Resistance. She’s living proof that the idea that everyone’s role is predetermined is the nonsense it sounds to the reader. Living with messy feelings, disinterested in performing her duties, she is Heterodox by definition in spite of being a Hero of Otpor.

Rebellion picks up shortly after Resistance ends: Anaiya is working low-level security jobs, shunned by the Peacekeepers and despised by the resistance. But the execution of the supposed leader of that resistance has done nothing to restore Otpor’s calm: the Peacekeepers are stretched ever thinner as they crack down on riots, graffiti and other acts of Heterodoxy. Desperate, Niamh recalls Anaiya to the Peacekeepers, teaming her up with her rival Jenna. No sooner is she deployed than the resistance make contact, Kaide offering her a book of her executed mentor’s Heterodox writing in exchange for details of Niamh’s plans.

While Kaide has correctly judged that Anaiya is no typical (ex-)Peacekeeper and that Kane’s writings will tempt her, it’s ironic that he thinks Niamh might trust Anaiya with his plans any more than the resistance would trust her with theirs. Instead, Anaiya is certain Jenna has been assigned to keep an eye on her, and she doesn’t believe for a second that Niamh is interested in rehabilitating her: Niamh doesn’t waste effort on anything unless it advances his career. Cue a plot of nested conspiracies that requires Anaiya to fool everyone into thinking she’s working for them when she’s mostly trying to figure out who she has become and what she wants.

I like a conflicted protagonist where I’m genuinely uncertain who she’ll choose to burn, and I appreciate the approach to making that protagonist a (former) enforcer whose world view is being reshaped. Otpor is utopian right up until the point your minor misdeed results in police brutality. Where Resistance forced Anaiya to confront home truths without quite convincing her she didn’t want to go home, Rebellion goes all out for disbanding the police, with Anaiya coming round to the UnOrthodox position that reducing the power of the Fire Element isn’t heretical. The Peacekeepers are routinely overstepping their bounds, and Niamh is secretly willing to ignore the Orthodoxy if it will get him ahead. Power corrupts, and Otpor should be able to achieve balance without unaccountable law enforcement.

The anti-law-enforcement themes may alienate some readers, but Anaiya frustrated me. As in Resistance, she veers between feeling sorry for herself and acting impulsively, engaging in activities that undermine her (such as her adoption of a dog – pets are a waste of resources, citizen). She’s clearly never had the lecture about not breaking the law when you’re breaking the law. Kaide is more engaging, although his almost limitless web of contacts often make him feel more of a plot device than a character. However, I enjoyed their growing attraction, a massive improvement on her previous instacrush on Seth (whose appearances in Rebellion do nothing to help me understand why he’s such a figurehead).

While I appreciated some clarifying of the world-building and the introduction of an aloof elite, I was troubled by many of its implications (not least the built-in ableism) and how surprisingly straight the world is (the single gay pairing is tragic, with one of them dead by the start of Rebellion). Whilst I appreciate that the point is to explore how easily power can accumulate in the wrong hands under certain conditions, the complete lack of checks and balances on Niamh felt like a little too convenient / implausible to me (specifically – dancing around spoilers – his interactions with the ‘government’ rather than the Peacekeeper excesses he orders; those are entirely believable, sadly). The result is a vision that has potential, but which I found dissatisfying in the details.

This isn’t a bad read, but it ultimately fell flat for me, and I’m not motivated to complete the series. However, I’d still recommend it to readers seeking stories with (slightly) older characters after enjoying YA dystopias.

I received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review. RESISTANCE and REBELLION are available now; the final book REVOLUTION will be released later this year.