The apocalypse no one believed in occurred December 21st 2012. The earth finally fought back against all of the damage inflicted by humanity as a result, chaos ensued. Such an event caused chaos for vampires as well, forcing them to reveal themselves to what remained of the human population. At first the two groups worked together until humanity's need to be the apex predatory surfaced and vampires were forced into slavery. In 2210 in New Haven City, vampires are kept in dark cages forced to battle each to the death for the entertainment of humans. Mira is the champion having never lost a fight and that is because of her skill as a gladiator and her refusal to ever give up. No matter what happens, Mira is determined to escape. When she catches the attention of Lucian, the Regent despite his desire to learn more about vampires and promises that he has her best interests at heart, Mira wonders if she can trust him. What agenda is the Regent working and how will find a way to use her.
I have to admit that when I read the first page of Dissension I rolled my eyes. The 2012 apocalypse is both cliche and more than a little racially problematic. My doubts quickly disappeared and I found myself lost in Dissension. Salidas gives us a complete shift on vampire human dynamics which have become the norm in urban fantasy. It is seldom acknowledged that the superior number of humans and our ability to move around during the day, grants humanity a huge advantage. As powerful as vampires are, given the right circumstances, they can be overwhelmed. I liked seeing this shift and it gives the reader an interesting look at human nature. In the name of being the apex predator and the most important sentient being on the planet, we (read:humans) have done untold damage and wiped out entire species of animals. This makes the desire to conquer vampires very believable in Dissension.
Perhaps what is most important is that Salidas managed to make vampires new. With the popularity of this genre, vampire stories are hardly new and are constantly being published. With a shift in the balance of power, Salidas makes her story fresh and vibrant. Vampires aren't these mystical beings with untold power but the downtrodden and oppressed. Further to Salidas's credit, she manages to do establish this oppression without appropriating from historically marginalized people to make her point. The despair and the pain were absolutely vivid.
In some ways, Mira falls victim to Keille independence, in that she reacts without thinking to figures in authority. It is so bad, that she has becomes famous for both her verbal and physical resistance. As the plot moves on however, Mira does begin to think through her decisions but not enough to stop her life from being in serious jeopardy. As this series moves on, I would like to see Mira move away from that. She is angry but that rage is very much justified given that she has been tortured and imprisoned for thirty years. In the end, despite all of the pain, she tries to inspire hope. Despite everything that has been done to Mira, she never loses sight of who she is, making her far more than the rabid killing machine the humans regard her as.
I loved the contradiction in human nature that Salidas explored. On one hand, humans abhor the loss of human life and decry vampire violence, yet cheer loudly in the ring for vampire blood. Salidas suggests that savagery and even violence all depends on frame of reference. In other words, if you're on the winning side then you're a hero. It's particularly important that the humans have rewritten the history books in order to promote and indoctrinate their point of view, thus justifying to future generations the continued barbarism. This is a story about vampirism but in so many ways, it mirrors what happens in our world.
Dissension is only 146 pages long and yet Salidas manages to pack so much within its short pages. When it got to the end, it left me wanting so much more. There are so many unanswered questions. It says something about Ms.Salidas's talent as a writer that 146 pages could leave me with such a strong sense of not only her world, but her characters. Without descending to overly descriptive prose, Salidas gives the reader a good understanding of not only how the world of Dissenssion is orderd but of how the technology works, giving the reader a full understanding of her futuristic dystopian vampire story. I was completely swept away and devoured Dissension. How have I not heard about Salidas's work before?
Okay, I have totally fanpoodled this book; however, should choose to read this book, you will discover that it deserves every accolade that I have given it. Unfortunately, even with the best of books, it is necessary to mention a few failings. Salidas did not include any GLBT characters in her story and given that we live in a heterosexist world that suggests all of her characters are straight. The few characters of colour were minor but in Salidas's defense, there are not a lot of characters in Dissension to begin with and none of them are given overly large roles.
In some ways, Dissension reminded me of the best parts of The Hunger Games, right down to the distinctive smell of the Magistrate. This did however give me a moments pause because it seemed unnecessary given the already amazing elements of this story. Dissension is not a book that you should pick up if you have anything else to do because it will draw you in. I read this book without a break and find myself desperately eager to read the next book in the installment. Do yourself a favor, buy this book and while you're at it, buy one for a friend.
Editor's Note: A copy of this book was received from Netgalley.