Review of I am Traitor by Sif Sigmarsdóttir

Read: 4th September 2017 – 6th September 2017

Rating: ⭐⭐

Spoilers in review: Minor, with more significant spoilers after where marked because I went on a tangent

Aliens have made contact with Earth, and are stealing teenagers through giant metal tubes that descend from their spaceships. After Amy Sullivan’s older brother and best friends are taken, she volunteers to deliver a message to someone on the inside, in the hope that this will save everyone. But this requires her to allow herself to be stolen away as well.

My reading experience, and therefore this review, has been affected by the fact that I am currently completely obsessed with the tv show Torchwood, which is a spin off of Doctor Who. The fact that this book is about an alien invasion and is specifically set in Canary Wharf (the base of the ill-fated Torchwood One) should have made this a perfect read for me right now! Unfortunately, the plot of this book has too many similarities to Torchwood: Children of Earth, which is the show’s third season, to the point where direct comparisons are unavoidable. The phrase ‘children of Earth’ is even used within the novel. In my opinion, that season of Torchwood is simultaneously one of the best pieces of television I’ve seen, and one of the most horrifying. When considering which executed the premise better, Torchwood is undeniably the winner.

I didn’t really like the main character, Amy, or her friend, Matilda. Amy seemed more concerned with her own love life than the fact that the world appeared to be ending around her. When considering that she may potentially die without ever having been kissed, the dying part was not the thing that bothered her the most. Also, she’s a moron. If you’re caught somewhere you’re not supposed to be by guards, and the person you’re with immediately acts as if they’re arresting you, then it’s clearly a cover. There are multiple chapters where she’s convinced she’s been betrayed, and she was so shocked when she found out that she hadn’t been. How genre blind can you get, seriously? Matilda was quite often a bad friend, at one point trying to convince their group to ignore Amy because she had done something that Matilda wasn’t 100% happy with. There wasn’t enough of most of the other characters to have anything much to actually dislike.

There is a forced unnecessary hetero relationship brewing throughout this novel. I doubt much more needs to be said on that topic. It’s there. It would have been better if it hadn’t been.

This novel’s main gimmick is that between every chapter there is an entry from Amy’s diary from a few chapters forward in the plot. However, this fails for two reasons. Firstly, the main narration is also in first person and past tense, which means that the diary entries would have to really distinguish themselves in order to be believable. This leads onto the second problem, that being that they do not. Aside from the font change, the diary chapters read exactly the same as the normal chapters do. This is especially noticeable when Amy apparently transcribes dialogue and actions happening around her perfectly. I don’t know anyone who is a fast enough writer or detail oriented enough to put that much effort into their diaries. The weakness of the diary chapters was a huge letdown, because I usually really like unconventional methods of storytelling.

If the phrase ‘politically correct’ shows up in narration, you’re probably doing something wrong. In this instance, it was used to describe a minor character that ‘in a less politically correct era [would be] described as fat.’ I don’t have the energy right now to go into detail about the issues I have with this, but I have issues with this.

The novel could be very confusing. Often a question would be asked, and there would be pages of dialogue following it, and the protagonist would act as if she had been given the answer when she hadn’t. I was constantly having to go back and reread passages because I thought I must have missed something, but I never had. There was also an astonishing lack of description of major areas, such as the ‘Camp’. When Amy enters it for the first time, she goes off on a tangent about concentration camps, never really getting to the point, and the ‘Camp’ that she’s in is clearly nowhere near as bad as those were. The Holocaust is referenced pretty often actually. One or two references would have been fine, and could have worked well, but I think Sigmarsdóttir overdid it a little.

While this book has enough problems that I was never going to love it, I definitely would have liked it a lot more if I hadn’t already seen Torchwood. If you like sci-fi (or if you’ve read this book and are curious to see a slightly different take on an extremely similar premise) then I highly recommend that you watch it.

*Major spoilers for both I Am Traitor and Torchwood: Children of Earth below, because when I say ‘completely obsessed’ I am not remotely kidding.*

In both stories, the world’s governments agree to hand over the requested number of children, select which children will be handed over, and are more concerned with getting re-elected than the actual well-being of their citizens. However, in this novel the Government actually tries to warn people that their children are in danger, a course of action which gets them killed. In Torchwood, they do not, and the vast majority are heavily implied to get away with their actions sans any meaningful repercussions. This makes Torchwood all the more horrifying.

The 456 are much worse than the Pronaxians. The 456 wanted 10% of all the Earth’s children to use as a source for a recreational drug. The Pronaxians, nasty as they are, only wanted 1,000,000 children in total, to use as a means to save their own species from extinction. Their methods may be horrible, and their values may be ridiculous, but I struggled to hate them as much as Sigmarsdóttir probably intended as the situation could have very easily been a lot worse.

Both stories include the death of two people that the protagonist is close to. However, these deaths are a lot more hard hitting in Torchwood than they are here. In I Am Traitor, a boy that Amy befriends aboard the spaceship is killed in a minor revolt. Amy views this as a tragedy, but she had in fact only just met the character in question and overall the boy’s life and death have very little impact on the plot. The second major death is a girl who is supposed to be Amy’s best friend from childhood. However, she was barely developed and therefore when she died I felt nothing at what was clearly supposed to be an emotional moment. The two major deaths in Torchwood are such that Jack, the main character, leaves Earth at the conclusion of the season as he can’t bear to stay there without the people that he’s lost. The characters that die were important to the plot, were well developed, and the surviving characters have more of a reaction to their loss than a few moments of considering how that person is now dead before just shrugging it off. One of those characters now has a real life shrine in Cardiff, which illustrates how viewers reacted to his death.

The resolution to the alien invasion in both stories requires the use of technology. However, in the novel that’s pretty much all there is to it. They use it a lot and do some fairly complex coding, but there’s nothing additional required. In Torchwood, the 456’s own techniques had to be used against it, but the cost of doing this created what is quite possibly one of the most horrific scenes I have ever watched in my life. Much as I may wish that the Torchwood ending was nicer, I prefer it to the ending here.

Also, this novel features the protagonist, Amy, developing feelings for an alien boy. This is totally something that Capatain Jack Harkness would do and has done.

Review originally written in 2017

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