Trella is a scrub, a denizen of the cramped, joyless lower levels whose job is to keep Inside clean for the wealthy Uppers. When her friend Cog introduces her to a guy who claims to know the location of the legendary Gateway to Outside, she gets involved despite herself and ends up starting a rebellion.
If you read dystopian sci-fi, you probably had a handle on the tropes of this one from my first sentence. With the exception of Trella’s nifty use of the air and heat pipes to sneak all over Inside (Inside Out videogame, anyone?), there isn’t much that’s new here. Which means I get to use it as an opportunity to talk about the tropes in general! Whee! (Mild spoilers below)
I had a hard time getting into Trella’s story, because the world was too full of boredom and she was too cynical about it. Here’s the thing: if you make a world crappy enough and the hero miserable enough, it’s a drag to read about.
In fact, I didn’t even get why the characters were motivated to survive, let alone work their assigned shifts. These scrubs work 10 hours on, 10 off for food and sleep, forever and ever, no holidays or mindless television entertainment or anything. They get bread, but Snyder left out the circuses. Their kids are taken away to be raised in Care Centers, so they don’t have the motivation or hope for the future that comes from responsibility for the next generation. Any close enough relationship is broken up by the Pop Cops. They have no strong religion, so most aren’t motivated by an afterlife. What’s left? I’m bumming myself out again just writing about it!
I found a lot of gaps in world creation — technologically, historically… I don’t want to get into all of them, but for example: there are magical eye drops that change blue eyes brown (to hide in the lower levels; only Uppers have blue eyes) and then turn them back again, but only if you genetically had blue eyes to start with! The Parenthetical.net Scientist-in-Residence (Boyfriend S) confirms that this makes no biological sense. Snyder’s previous books all appear to be fantasy, which makes sense — the world creation doesn’t have to be as technologically tight.
(Also, only Uppers have blue eyes. Because of all the genetic mixing in the lower levels, whereas the Uppers have pure family lines. Blue eyes become a plot point. Destiny, eye color essentialism, blah blah, over it.)
The ending was far, far too easy. The cute in-jokes between the romantic leads felt forced. The villains were Pure Evil. Meh, meh, meh, I say.