The duology, Hive and Rogue by A.J. Betts is a beautifully written, touching story that I’d recommend to anyone, particularly Australian young people. The first novel takes place in a dystopian future, where the audience follows Hayley — a teenage girl with a powerful sense of curiosity — and her dangerous (but endearing) inquisitiveness, which begins to push at the boundaries of her small world. Ultimately, however, this is a love story. It’s easy to judge based on that alone, but if you can see past the fact that it’s one of hundreds of teenage romances, you’ll be able to appreciate why it has nominated for (and won!) so many awards.
Hayley’s connection to the boy is adorable and heartbreaking and beautifully constructed. It is because of this that the reader will be able to understand Hayley’s actions the best, as her story is character driven (meaning every soaring high and every painful low is a result of her personality and actions, rather than outside forces). This shines the most in the beginning of Rogue, when Hayley is thrown into a situation that could almost be magical in her eyes, an enchanting miracle that is somehow still bittersweet. Although she is given an impossibly perfect opportunity, Betts does an incredible job of showing how Hayley misses the familiarity of the people she was once close to.
Betts uses parts of Hayley’s environment to illustrate her protagonist’s homesickness and feelings, in a way that feels so real it’s as if the reader’s own home has been torn from them. From the beginning, I was rooting for the couple, and throughout Rogue I became even more attached to the idea of a fairy-tale-ending, perhaps because it seemed so unlikely.
Betts is a talented writer, and she can clearly pull off this genre beautifully. Hive and Rogue were both written in a way that is both compellingly original but is undoubtedly dystopian a world that was almost perfect, but could never be utopian because of freewill (or similar human rights issues). The duology presents two unique futures in which both are tragically flawed. It takes great skill to create a dystopian world in which you can sense a devastating problem, but can still see all of the beauty and shining benefits. Here, Betts manages to do it twice. The obvious choice for maximum theatricality is a world aflame, where children are subject to torture and stripped of their rights, a trope that has basically engulfed YA fiction. It is unbelievably refreshing to see a subtler evil. These two books show the kind of evil that you might just be willing to deal with if it meant the ultimate paradise, and I think that might be my favourite kind of dystopia to read.
I do think it is important to mention the stunning realism in the characters and setting too. I can imagine how the characters would justify every single action. However small a detail may be, the ability to justify it can set a good book apart from the hundreds that cut corners to make the story exciting. One thing I love about Betts’ writing style is how believable everything is, and how she can conjure situations in which the most exciting thing for the plot is simultaneously the best, most plausible choice for her characters.
I adore this story. The painfully realistic possibility of it happening is terrifying, but makes for an entertaining book. I fell in love with the characters and hope to read more from A.J. Betts in the future. If I had to guess at what might be considered flaws, I’d say the greatest possibility would be clichés. It’s impossible to write a completely original story. Perhaps it is the masses of tropes that come with writing a dystopian romance that litter the genre, like pitfall traps for authors to fall into. I can imagine YA readers getting sick of a boy-and-girl-fall-in-love-in-world-where-they-can-never-be-together kind of story. Nevertheless, it’s a winning formula if you write it well, and, in my opinion, A.J. Betts wrote it well.