Think about all the choices you’ve made in your life. You decided whether to go to college or start a career. You chose where you wanted to live, study, and work. You select your outfit every day, and make your own breakfast. You chose which friends you want in your life, and which to let go. You met a variety of potential partners, and, if you’re fortunate enough, chose which to share your life with.
The dystopian world of The Guidal is a world without choices, so much so that the characters therein hardly notice the lack of real opportunity in their lives.
Let’s talk about it.
Title: The Guidal: Discovering Puracordis
Author: Roxy Eloise
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian Science-Fiction; Romance; Coming-of-age; Action
Published: Entrada Publishing, 2022
Aurora lives in a near-future world where an authoritarian government has eliminated magic, and maintains absolute control over its population, including imposing a strict curfew and incarcerating all violators without trial. The supreme dictator maintains his iron grip of control through an army of brainwashed orphans called Enforcers.
Aurora came to The Boulderfell Institute for Young Enforcers at three years old. Equal parts boarding school, military academy, and prison, The Institute controls every aspect of its members’ lives. The only memory Aurora has of life before the Institute comes to her in a recurring dream, where she loses her parents and a young boy rescues her.
We follow her transition from the training academy for children fifteen and younger to the active branch of the Enforcer military. She is almost immediately pushed into what amounts to an arranged marriage with Pax, an enforcer a few years her senior, who, by the rules of the land is now her roommate. She is assigned an irreverent prisoner to be her personal charge named Tayo, whose mysterious past is on a collision course with Aurora’s muddled memories.
Between learning the ropes as an Enforcer, navigating her relationships with Pax and Tayo, and uncovering the earthshattering truth about her past, Aurora is in for a rough coming-of-age.
Why This Book Is For You:
While the setting is dark and the mystery of the missing magic looms, the focus of what certainly feels like the first entry in a series is on the love triangle between Aurora, Pax, and Tayo. If you enjoy a good slow-burning will-they-or-won’t-they, this book will be your cup of tea.
That said, there is definitely something for the action lover. The internal competition between enforcers is fierce and brutal. Their bloodsport extracurricular activities are not for the faint of heart.
Some spoilers below.
I would be remiss if I did not discuss the uncomfortable mechanics of the Institute’s arranged marriage. All Enforcers age 16 through 29 are eligible to be matched by an algorithm and pushed into arranged betrothals once per year. There are no rules in this world to prevent a 16-year-old from matching with a 29-year-old. From the numbers we see in the novel, it seems like a relatively small subset matches each year, and they explicitly note that it is unusual for Aurora to match so young. The matched students move into shared living quarters with their new partner. Although there are no barriers to prevent them from becoming intimate, the institution severely punishes them if they conceive: imprisoning them for 30 years and taking their child from them, to be raised in the very institute that authored their doom.
Aurora is 16 when she matches with 18-soon-to-be-19-year-old Pax. By the standards of a contemporary American audience, she is legally a child in an arranged marriage with an adult. I’ll be honest, this concerned me. I was worried about where the story was going. But – spoilers – Aurora and Pax never take their relationship to that level.
Because I received this book as an advanced reading copy from the author in exchange for an honest review, I had the opportunity to reach out to her for comment on this aspect. She points out that indeed, the ‘Unity’ is intentionally uncomfortable for the reader. It is a prime example of the way Enforcers are brainwashed and exploited in this dystopian setting. In the author’s home UK, the age of consent is 16, which takes a bit of the edge off for the home audience. Finally, 16-to-18 pairings are not uncommon in young adult fiction, including fantasy power-house titles such as The Hunger Games and Divergent trilogies.
I’ve been chewing on this idea for a couple of days as of this writing, and, to put it bluntly, it is probably unrealistic to write about teenagers in love and ignore the fact that they definitely think about physical intimacy. Throwing temptation and opportunity in young people’s paths without equipping them with the tools they need to make wise choices, then punishing them if they give in is, perhaps, not as far-flung and dystopian as my gut reaction would like to believe.
Where Can You Find More?
Happy reading, fellow bibliophile.