It’s not often that I read two books in a series that I consider to be insipid and uninspired, yet find myself actively awaiting the third installation of the trilogy. Kiera Cass’ The Selection and The Elite are rare examples of this sort of book. The Selection is like candy: bad for you and useless, but still addictive. It’s The Bachelor meets The Hunger Games. The characters are bland as unsweetened oatmeal, but you still want the female lead to end up with the right man. It’s a formulaic teen dystopian fiction, but it still keeps your interest somehow.
The first book sees our heroine, who has the most ridiculous name in fiction since Obi-Wan Kenobi. America Singer is a girl living in Illea, a monarchy that rose from the ashes of America (and Panem, I presume). The government has a royal family and eight castes, which linearly decrease in wealth and can be determined through birth, marriage, or career. America is a member of the Fives, a lower-middle class caste that seems to be made of of artists, performers, and minstrels. She has a forbidden relationship with Aspen, a Six (blue-collar workers). And yes, the names just get dumber and dumber. Aspen dumps America just before she is selected to be sent to the royal palace as a potential bride for Prince Maxon. She competes in a Bachelor-style contest and quickly becomes a favorite. She also finds herself falling for Maxon, who seems to favor her above the other girls. She makes friends and enemies, etc. Meanwhile, a rebellion is happening, and America, as the possible future princess, is at risk of being lynched by the rebels. In the midst of all of this, Aspen is sent to the palace as her bodyguard, and re-declares his love for her, forcing her to make a choice: new love or old?
The second book, The Elite, sees America making the final six. At this stage, she’s tutored in the ways of politics to prepare for her future role. The rebellion gets worse, and she falls deeper in love with Maxon, who may or may not be under the thumb of his tyrannical father. She makes an enemy of the King while calling for change and abolishing of the caste system. She once again is nearly killed by rebels, and the book ends with her vow to fight the King for Maxon.
America Singer as a character is sort of an amalgamation of Bella Swan and Katniss Everdeen, in that she has the poor background, good intentions, and longing for equality that Katniss has, but she’s also a passive lover and a blank slate as far as personality, a la Bella. This makes for a rather uninteresting narrator that isn’t too difficult to root for, but also not very easy to relate to. She fits in to her caste well as a violin player and starts off not particularly fond of the system, but also not wholly against it. In one word: she’s dull.
Interestingly, the most well-rounded character in the dramatis personae is Prince Maxon. Through America’s words, Maxon comes off as a decent fellow who is fighting an internal battle due to this daunting task of giving 35 girls and equal chance to win his heart and the crown, as well as the hard job of weeding out who is genuine and who is just in it for the fame and riches. Maxon is not without his flaws, but he’s also rational and realistic.
Overall, the formulaic plot, characters, and setups of the books are meant to numb the brain in a harmless way. It is a harmless series except for one factor: there is something about it that makes you want to keep reading. Like I said, I am eagerly await the third installment: The One, due out in 2014. But I probably will not be reading the books again and again. Once is enough. If you’re looking for intelligent and strategic writing, this series is not for you. But if you read purely for the entertainment, then I would give this a look.