Book Review: Children of Icarus by Caighlan Smith
It is Clara who is desperate to enter the labyrinth and it is Clara who is bright, strong, and fearless enough to take on any challenge. It is no surprise when she is chosen. But so is the girl who has always lived in her shadow. Together they enter. Within minutes, they are torn apart forever. Now the girl who has never left the city walls must fight to survive in a living nightmare, where one false turn with who to trust means a certain dead end.
Synopsis provided by Goodreads.
Series: Children of Icarus #1
Author: Caighlan Smith
Publication Date: August 1, 2016
Publisher: Switch Press
Page Count: 313
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Horror, Dystopia
Cover Artist: Cecily McKeever
My Rating: ★★
Welcome to the city of Daedala, a city situated at the center of a massive labyrinth. A city built on history and lore. A city of people seeking to enter the labyrinth in order to become angels.
“Children between the ages of ten and sixteen are candidates for the labyrinth trial. Clara is sixteen. So am I. This is our last chance to become Icarii: to enter the labyrinth and become angels.”
Clara has always been the brave one. Eager to enter the labyrinth to join her brother on the other side has been her dream since he was chosen to be one of the Icarii years before. Her timid friend, however, doesn’t feel the same way about the labyrinth. Preferring the shadows and staying home, she’s surprised when they are both chosen to become Icarii. The glorified position immediately turns sinister only moments after the chosen enter the labyrinth.
Once inside, the Icarii are descended upon by angel-like creatures, who attack and reduce their numbers immediately. Terrified, everyone remaining disperses and hides. Tragically, the narrator witnesses Clara’s brutal demise, and immediately understands that her “privileged” position isn’t what everyone believed it to be in the city. She must now learn how to survive the treacherous labyrinth, in hopes to eventually find the exit. Foes are around every corner, and friends are hard to come by.
⇒ To disclose the content warning a little further, there is a weird, “rape-y” vibed scene between the main character and another character named Ryan. The main character’s response reveals a masochistic-like quality to her which appears later on as well.
”I can feel his ragged breath down the front of my shirt. Something about how it gets quick when I twist the dagger excites me. He’s terrified me and treated me so cruelly, and all it takes is me doing one thing to make him this weak.”
In an unrelated incident, another character tries to rape the main character as well.
Before I really got into this book, I was pretty excited to read it. However, at only ten percent into it, I realized it was going to be a very different read that I had expected. Sure, mythology has it’s creepy, and rather gory moments, but Children of Icarus takes it to a new level.
The story begins in the city of Daedala and gives only brief accounts of its makeup, history, and societal functions. The scene quickly shifts to inside the labyrinth as it follows the main character for the remainder of the book. While some details are given in both settings, vague terminology and direction give the reader a sense of being lost. Which, for a book like this, I guess is appropriate–seeing how the characters are lost in a labyrinth…
The most page time for world building is spent on identifying the creatures in the labyrinth and developing the social hierarchy among the Icarii.
Society is structured upon, and orbits around an interpretation of the Greek mythology story of Icarus and Daedalus (aka Daedala in this version).
“The gods have always been cruel, always tricksters. The sun was no gateway, but poor, young Icarus could not have known the gods’ plan for him. He flew into the sky until his wings caught fire and he plummeted back to the earth.
In this book, Icarus is initially depicted as a young angel. Also being the last free angel, he was tricked by the gods to come to their land and rescue the angels that had been captured. But the gods tricked him into believing that the sun was a portal to their realm.
Daedala, a representation of Daedalus from the original story, retains the same vocation and identifies as a craftswoman. She mourns the death of Icarus. Hoping he may regenerate, she built Icarus a tomb.
“Daedala knew she would not live to see Icarus fly again, and so built for him two more gifts, to protect him from the ruthless, relentless gods. She constructed a giant city over the tomb of Icarus, with walls and towers so high they threatened the territory of the gods themselves. And then, around this city, she built a labyrinth that was thought to never end.”
To the residents of Daedala, Icarus is a sort of god. The people of Daedala would choose a select number of children between the ages of ten and sixteen each year to become “Icarii” and enter the labyrinth in order to find the end of the maze. Once through, they would enter into Alyssia–the land of the angels and have the honor of welcoming Icarus home.
Pacing & Readability
While this book starts off with a bang, the entire body of the text was so slow and tediously uneventful. There are some creature attacks and what-not here and there, but not a lot happens for the majority of the book. It gave a disjointed feel to the book because the beginning and end had so much going on, that the middle was the exact opposite.
Point-of-View & Characters
The point-of-view is told from the perspective of the main character, who happens to remain unnamed for the entire book. While I thought this tactic was clever, I didn’t care for her character very much. The fact that I wanted to find out who she was battled with her being unlikeable, and made me more aggravated with her character than anything.
”I grew up in this building and I was supposed to die in this building. Now I’ll never die. Now I’ll become an angel. So why is my heart in my throat?”
Our unnamed narrator is clearly a “follower.” From the first page, her adoration for her best friend Clara is clear. Without Clara, she doesn’t know what to do or how to handle herself. This element of her personality gets her into tight places when she finds herself alone, unsure of how to process the situation in front of her. Several times instead of facing what was actually going on, she instead wishes that she is home and back behind the curtains of safety. This “smoke screen” tactic pushes her to act before she thinks about the repercussions of her decisions.
Clara is the main character’s best friend. She’s outgoing, fearless, but also dominating, over-confident, unrefined, and self-centered. While she’s not very nice to her friend, she naturally falls into the leader role and expects “unnamed” to take the backseat willingly. Eager to become one of the Icarii, she instantly shows her true self when “unnamed” is chosen first.
Some of the minor characters, like Ryan and the Executioner, was the most interesting of them all. Both Ryan and the Executioner are difficult to make out. While Ryan’s character isn’t explored much (and comes off way worse than I think he actually is), the Executioner’s true nature is revealed more towards the end and remains to be the most complex characters of them all.
The main antagonist is shared between the labyrinth, and later on, with Collin. While the labyrinth poses a constant threat to the Icarii, Collin becomes a threat to the main character when he discovers that she is not who she claims to be. Collin turns from a pleasant person to a despicable, tremendously cruel human.
Bullying is very visible throughout this book. The main character is thrust into a situation that she doesn’t want to be in in the first place and is not prepared for the challenges before her. While she doesn’t handle herself well, she also doesn’t deserve the treatment that people give to her. I cringed at the way Collin would treat “unnamed,” and it nearly made me stop reading this book altogether. The interactions between these two characters (along with “mob mentality”) show just how dangerous bullying can be when no one decides to stand up for what’s right and for the person being bullied.
⇒ Fending for oneself
There isn’t a good example of friendship in this book. The closest glimpse the reader gets into a “friendship” is between the main character and the Executioner. While a sense of comradery is attempted to be built in Fates, the moment someone does something wrong, they are thrown to the wolves…quite literally.
⇒ Facing Reality
“I didn’t mean to trick you. I didn’t want to, but you were so kind, and I was so scared, and I didn’t know what to do. And then it was too late and I couldn’t find a way to tell you the truth because I…I didn’t want to think about her being dead, and I knew if I told you it would hurt you even more than it was hurting me. She was my friend. My best friend. Pretending to be her, it was almost like it kept her alive, and I know that’s no excuse, but I wasn’t ready to face it.”
The main character has a major issue with facing the reality of her situation. While her reactions are understandable, they still aren’t right. She spends a majority of the book wishing for everything to be different, which inhibits her from being able to grow, adapt, and move on.
⇒ Paying for your Mistakes
“You’re just like all the monsters in this graveyard. You’re worse than the monsters, because they can’t help being disgusting and vicious and cruel. You chose to do this. You ruined my sister’s name and memory.”
Another rather negative theme visible was paying for the mistakes that were made. Instead of any type of decency or attempt to understand where a person was coming from, a cruel punishment was given instead. Several characters experience this treatment, especially the main character.
Things that I liked:
⇒ The way the plot was constructed around the original mythological tale.
⇒ The Executioner’s character complexity.
⇒ For the most part, it was romance-free.
Things that I didn’t like:
⇒ The overall brutality.
⇒ The major variation in pacing.
⇒ The feeling that the backstory was somewhat incomplete and therefore, left unexplained.
⇒ The main character’s passiveness when she was being bullied and abused, her general character being rather annoying, and the weird masochistic qualities that surfaced at a few points in time.
⇒ There is little detail given on character description across the board.
Overall, I wasn’t a fan of this book. The gore and dismal atmosphere overpowered anything else in the story and kept me from enjoying it much–not that I found much to enjoy. While I liked how it was a creative twist on the original mythological tale, I felt that a lot of the plot was left unexplored, the characters underdeveloped (and unlikeable), and uncomfortable topics being focused on that weren’t redeeming in any way. This may be a case of “it’s me, not you,” but I also don’t think that action scenes and suspense make for a solid plot alone.
Vulgarity: Surprisingly, none!
Sexual content: As stated in the content warning at the beginning of this review, there was a scene that felt like it was leading up to something, and then another scene where rape was actually attempted.
Violence: Quite a lot, including very gory scenes.