Resistance by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky ( Divided Elements # 1)

Even though epic fantasy is my favorite genre when it comes to speculative fiction, I find of late I've been veering more into 'easier' sub-genres to read, like urban fantasy or the dystopian settings. Now easier of course is a relative term as I generally tend to blast through the urban/dystopian settings relishing the pace and thrill of a novel set in times and a world, familiar to the ones we are in. And so, when I first requested for Resistance, the debut novel from Mikhaeyla Kopievsky that is the first part in an intended series, Divided Elements - the premise looked familiar and a path, well-trodden before.

The world after an unexplained apocalypse, in a time possibly in the future with the society divided into clear hard hierarchical stratas called Elementals based on their affinity to different forms. Called out as Air, Earth, Water and Fire. So imagine my pleasant surprise when I realized that this one, was different. I was in for a shock with this book. In a good way. Resistance has been compared to the Divergent series, being touted as Divergent for the Adults but I think the similarities end in just that premise about the societal strata being decided based on your inherent affinity to a skill. This book, definitely goes way beyond the normal in defining those 'affinities' ( And in that manner, is miles ahead of a superficial comparison to the Divergent series, never losing track of the bigger question about what happens if you are a 'Heterodox' with natural affinities to more than one Element?) Mikhaeyla then goes on to do a mind-fuck on the reader as you realize that you're stuck inside the protagonist's head whose natural alignments have been tampered with, so to finish a mission but her re-alignment might have cost her more than just her job!

As I got sucked deeper into this well realized beautiful world, I realized the book is an interesting mix of dystopian setting layered on with a science-fictional society; This strict society has rigid rules about conforming to a preordained and pre-programmed manner of thought and deed. There is a steep learning curve here and my initial few chapters were slow as Mikhaeyla doesn't take the easy route and instead, writes in a lucid, intelligent manner that challenges the reader to take pause and note down the world being built around Anaiya, the main protagonist.

Anaiya, is a Fire Elemental - and a Peacekeeper tasked with the maintaining Orthodoxy ("The right way to think and act, as you are pre-programmed") in the society. Fire Elementals are by nature, enhanced with superior physical endurance, abilities to sense the "weight" of a public space that let's them ascertain the levels of risk of riots through such gathering, a sixth sense about dangers and also are able to project into the future about the different possibilities of an event, through "future-searches". Now while Anaiya is a conscientious and hard-working Elemental, striving for promotions and accolades, she is also trying hard to get out of the shadow of her former mentor, Kane - who incidentally is the most high-profile case of "Heterodoxy" - of someone willing to go against the collective societal rules, of  not conforming to their own pre-ordained affinities and willing to be a rebel.

So right from when we meet Anaiya, she is a tortured soul, her fragile mindspace warring with these thoughts of shame and insecurity in this regimented society. She is also constantly striving to compete with her current Peacekeeping partner, Niamh - a ruthlessly ambitious Fire elemental who doesn't shy away from breaking the rules, just to get ahead and be promoted to higher ranks. And to make matters worse, the Heterodoxy is now slowly raising its ugly head in the society, where a group of secret rebels are raising their voices against this tyranny. Painted Murals, with the word 'Resistance' written in large appear on buildings and walls. And then it hurts that Niamh, her partner who has risen steadily through the ranks, is actually the one who picks up Ani for an experimental operation; Something that has never before been attempted, a realignment of one's brain-functions mapping to a different Elemental affinity. Ani is sent on a covert mission, to break into a group of Air Elementals, suspected of Heterodoxy.

Things get really complex behind the enemy lines. So Anaiya, now an Air Elemental experimenting with music and sounds, starts to doubt herself, questioning her own loyalty towards the larger cause as she sees the world in a completely light as an Air Elemental. And since complications have a way of nesting down together, Ani's heart goes and and does a complete fillip on her: Falling for the wrong guy, a mysteriously charming stranger, Seth; An air elemental friendly with this group that matches the suspect profile as built up by the Analysts back in the Peacekeeping force.

I loved the ideas in the book, no two ways about it. They are original and ambitious - and despite being a debut, the quality of the writing has the assured aplomb of a seasoned writer. The pacing is quite on your nose and you get swept along, in the rising levels anxiety and tension as Ani struggles with her mind and the newly minted feelings that resist with her sense of loyalty buried deep-down. Mikhaeyla's society is convincing and the setting of this post-apocalyptic Paris where drugs, sex and night life spill out into the streets full of Izzakaya bars is utterly arresting.

The characters that fill up this wondrous speculative world, are also nicely drawn up - complementing the thought-provoking narrative. Seth, as the mysterious Air Elemental whom Ani falls for, is quite a charming personality, strong with rock-hard beliefs and a creative bend of mind. There are others in the group - like Rehd, quite the open rebel-child who is flashy and life-of-the-party effervescent, while Kaide is the strong, silent companion, a less flashy but more intellectual and creative shadow to these two. And of course, there is Niamh, whom we would love to hate. For his deep-rooted ideals and brutally unforgiving ambition that forms his core.

My one grouch with the novel is probably, with the internal struggles and the vacillating nature of the main protagonist that tended to drag things down a bit in the middle. While at heart this one is a book about a revolution, it surprisingly is kept clean when it comes to violence. There are hints of how well Mikhaeyla can layer in some heavy-duty action scenes (Eg. Peacekeeper detaining any riots) if it comes to that but there aren't too many explicit conflicts that require this.

A book that would appeal to fans of dystopia (Think 1984, George Orwell) Resistance is an utterly thought-provoking and subversive book in this genre - Highly entertaining, poignant and brutal by shades, Divided Elements is an original novel, pushing the boundaries of this genre - and Mikhaeyla is surely a writer to watch out for. 


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