Travel Documents 60: The Fractured Prism

The Fractured Prism
The Prism Files, Book 1

 Brendan Noble 
Genre: near-future, post apocalyptic, dystopian, YA

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The Dust Cover Copy

In an alternate America where one test determines your worth, Ivan failed…

Five years after the Prism Test made Ivan a Red slave, the world now knows him as Coyote, a masked rebel devoted to protecting his fellow Reds and destroying the People’s Front government that put him in chains.

But when he is injured saving a girl named Julia and wakes up in the royal hospital, Ivan knows his life will never be the same. Julia is a princess from the remnants of the Prism-exempt monarchy, and soon after he’s inducted into the royal service, Ivan realizes she’s his only hope to free his people.

He’s not the only one with his eyes on the princess, though. Slave-traders and scheming royals watch Ivan and Julia’s every move. And when Ivan uncovers a sinister plot that threatens both his people and the girl he’s fallen for, he will be forced to choose: his freedom or her life.

The Deets

The Scene

World building

In a fascinating twist on American political history, a group that is Socialist in the way the Nazis were (cough not at all really, cough) have taken control after one of the many Civil Wars that took America apart. By a ‘completely impartial’ (assume that these words drip with sarcasm) oral, written and physical exam known as The Prism, every sixteen-year-old is classified into a color that defines their worth to society: Purple, blue, green, orange, yellow. Or red. Reds are a waste of resources. Socially detrimental. Not intellectually or morally able to make their own decisions.
Or so the system tells them.

In a powerful and disturbing twist on current events, we’re reminded that any system can be made evil if that’s the will of those who control it. Reds are owned by the government and the big companies that still exist. Life is barely worth living. And when you don’t have much to lose, you’re not afraid to fight. That’s what the Reds are doing. They’ve formed a militia. They’re shaking up the system at its foundations.
This particular story is set in what was Saint Paul, and across town is a world away. In a painfully ironic twist, there are Royals on American soil again. Some of the best connected families back in the turmoil of the civil wars made deals to make the positions of power in the city hereditary. They are now Whites; exempt from the Prism and on top forever.
But even in their ranks, there are calls for change.

It’s quite the world to get dumped into.


The Crowd


Into this world, the writer has dropped Ivan. Code name: Coyote. He’s a Red boy in a world that doesn’t give a damn about him or his. And he aims to change that. He hates what he has to do in the world he was born into. Fighting. Putting down opponents. Taking out threats and leaving dead friends behind. But he’s damn good at it.

The story is told through Ivan’s eyes, and his quietly dangerous, obliquely snarky voice is the perfect match for the world he lives in. He’s a soldier, but he’s also a prank-puller, a brother, and a caretaker. He’s like a desert wolf in true: get in his way and he’ll take a chunk out of you, because he has pups and a pack to protect.
Through one of Fate’s little tricks, a White ends up in his pack: Julia, third daughter of a Royal. She’s a good representation of someone with privilege trying to use her position for the best: ignorant of many things but eager to learn. Drawing moral lines that she doesn’t realize other people don’t get the luxury of walking.

Both main characters have intricate internal lives, and it was fun watching them figure out how and if they fit. I did feel the other characters suffered a little for the focus, especially the antagonists. They tended to fall into classic archetypes once you got out of the main character’s immediate circle: the Mentor, the Father, the Adversary, etc. But it was a well-crafted and believable city, which I could picture fairly well. And the dystopian speeches given by political figures in the cast were nothing less than chilling.

The Lingo

Writing Style

While there’s a lot to love in this work, there’s one big issue: agonizingly on the nose dialogue. Lines like ‘I never knew there was someone like you’ and ‘I have no choices’ tend to bang the reader over the head with the point of each scene. I found that a little grating, but I could get around it. It’s the perfect read for college-age, but as a well-read thirty-something I found myself thinking ‘wow, that could have been put more subtly.’
I would like to see the work get one more pass for typos, but hey, we could all use that, right?

The scene setting is evocative and powerful. If the writer can do some work on dialogue, this work will really get to be something great.

The Moves


Twisty, turning and engaging, it’s a great ride of a plot. There is a subplot with a painfully obvious jerk of an arranged-marriage suitor that felt a bit forced for me, but the rest of the story is fascinating. It’s a little bleak in the end, but we’re left with the impression of the dark before the dawn. The sun is coming.

Overall Rating

A neat new entry in the dystopian genre, worth at least one read. If you liked Blade Runner, you’ll like this.