REVIEW: The List by Patricia Forde
To begin, I’d like to thank SOURCEBOOKS Jabberwocky, for accepting my request to read and review this title via NetGalley.
The List introduces a dystopian world where vocabulary is being restricted and words are being systematically destroyed. The story follows Letta, the Wordsmith’s apprentice, as she begins to question why the leader of the Ark is limiting people to using the words on the List, and whether his decision is as wise as it seems.
My main problem with The List is that I was expecting it to be more unique. The concept is brilliant. I’ve never read a dystopian novel about a society which is restricting words, and I was expecting a nuanced discussion about how constricting people’s vocabulary also limits their ability to express themselves and their thoughts. Unfortunately, as a Wordsmith’s apprentice, Letta is allowed to use words that aren’t on the List when she is in private. This means that the narrative is normal prose, where I’d been expecting – and hoping – that the story would also be told in List, demonstrating effectively to the reader exactly how few words you’re left with if you’re only allowed to use 500 words in total.
In fact, the List isn’t even strictly limited to 500 words. People come to Letta throughout the novel requesting extra selections of words that they’re allowed access to based off of the requirements of their work. If you’re a builder, you’re allowed to have words about construction and materials, while healers are allowed to have words relating to symptoms and treatments. This cements the fact that this concept is great in theory, but is too difficult to produce in an impactful way.
However, other than my issues with the way that the List works in general, I also found this book incredibly boring. Nothing really happens! There’s a fake out death – a trope which is rocketing to the top of my most hated list – and the majority of the book revolves around the fact that a character might have died… Only for that character to come back into the story so that they can die on the page a chapter or so later. A bit of an uninspired choice.
I didn’t realise that The List was the first book in a series until I’d nearly finished reading it. I have no interest in picking up the sequel (if you have, and you would recommend it, please let me know down in the comments), but I don’t think this needed to be a duology. If you cut out all of the scenes where nothing is really going on and combined it with whatever happens in the sequel this could have made a very well-structured and gripping novel, as the world that Patricia Forde has crafted is very interesting (even if the characters populating it aren’t).
There are two reasons that I decided to give this book two stars instead of one. The first is the fact that there isn’t a romance in this novel! That’s refreshing in a YA dystopian, particularly for a series starter. I’m expecting that this will change in the sequel – another reason that I’m not overly interested in carrying on with the series – but it was nice that Letta was focusing all of her attention on the events going on around her, rather than fixating on her (potential) feelings towards Marlo. The other reason is that the world is very well-crafted. It might have bored me, but it was a brilliant setting and it could have been a very successful novel if it hadn’t been stretched into a duology.
One last point before I go: I’ve just been looking at the Goodreads page for this novel, and I’ve discovered that it was marketed as a middle grade. This is NOT middle grade! There are some pretty harrowing descriptions of torture, and I would not recommend this book for a younger than teenage audience. Just because a dystopian doesn’t have an obvious romance, it does not mean that the story is middle grade. Jeez.
Thanks for reading, and see you again soon!