The publishers of Pure are evidently hoping it will become the next Twilight. The post-apocalyptic young adult novel hasn't yet been released in America, and already the movie rights have been sold, and Twilight producer Karen Rosenfelt has been hired to take it to the big screen.
Pure, by American writer Julianna Baggott, certainly has similar elements to its bloodsucking predecessor. It's a dark yet hopeful tale about a group of good-looking but scarred teenagers who band together to fight off evil in a world of shadows (and fall in love in the process), though it has a good helping of political conspiracy that lends the plot more depth.
It's set in America in a nuclear winter of the near future, about a decade after "The Detonations" laid the world to waste. An elite community was given advance warning of the attacks (blamed on an unnamed enemy state) and allocated refuge in the Dome - an enclosed climate-controlled city impervious to radiation, where they can live until the Earth recovers enough to be repopulated.
Those left outside the Dome took the full brunt of the Detonations. The humans and animals who weren't killed were hideously disfigured - scarred and fused to whatever they had been clinging to. Mothers were fused to their children, those who huddled together were fused in a group. Others were fused to animals, machines, concrete, glass, the earth. Humans, animals and monsters were left to scrounge, or prey on each other, for survival in a world swirling with ash and dust.
When they reach the age of 16, survivors are drafted en masse into the OSR, an army controlled by a fascist dictatorship. The more able become troops. The less able become target practice. The OSR will occasionally declare a Death Spree, when survivors are encouraged to form groups to hunt and kill the weakest among them, ostensibly to lower demand on resources.
Pressia Belge is the heroine of the novel. A child during the Detonations, Pressia's hand was fused to her doll. Left orphaned, she's been raised by her grandfather, who was fused with a fan that now sits in his throat, drawing ash and dust into his lungs. When the novel opens, Pressia is about to turn 16. Instead of showing up for duty she plans to go into hiding.
The hero is Partridge Willux, whose father is the leader of the "Pures" - those who were admitted into the Dome. Partridge is 17, and is mysteriously impervious to the behavioural conditioning to which all young men in the Dome are subjected. Partridge discovers his father is planning to implant bugs in his eyes and ears so he can be monitored, and to install a trigger switch in his brain that can kill him remotely if he strays out of line. Partridge figures his only chance is to escape the Dome and try to find his rebel mother.
On the outside he meets up with Pressia and, together with their respective love interests and a rogue soldier, they go on the run from the authorities, dodging monsters and henchmen, on a quest to find his mother. Along the way they unravel the truth about the regime.
It's a reasonably long book for YA, but it's a page turner that careers along effortlessly, slowly revealing the wider conspiracy. The writing is concise and descriptive.
Publisher Hachette is billing Pure as "the most anticipated dystopian novel of 2012". They're putting it into a tough category. As dystopian literature goes, Pure isn't as intimate and haunting as Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, and it doesn't come close to the power of the dystopian classics - Brave New World, 1984, Animal Farm, Fahrentheit 451... The regime's political tools are not particularly original: the corruption of admirable ideals, surveillance, propaganda, population control, the creation of a super race. This is dystopia-lite.
However, I did think the Feminine Feminism movement - compulsory for women in the lead-up to the Detonations - struck uncomfortably close to our current adulation of the Domestic Goddess.
"We believe in real education for women," says one highly strung housewife. "We believe in achievement and empowerment, but why does that have to be at odds with simple feminine virtues - beauty and grace and a dedication to home and family? Why does that mean we have to swing a briefcase and be manly?"
Before she returns to the kitchen, her chauvinist husband scolds her. "Dear, dear," he says. "Let's not get political."
Another thing Pure has in common with Twilight: it's a multi-parter. Why does everything have to be a trilogy?
Pure is a fun read with a hurtling plot - but I can't see myself lining up at a bookshop at midnight to buy the sequel in the next year or two. The territory feels a bit worn, and the romance scenes are drippy. But then again I'm not the target market.
I might just wait for Pure 2: The Movie. On DVD.