Elemental by Antony John – Review


Book Jacket:

A lost colony is reborn in this heart-pounding fantasy adventure set in the near future.

Thomas has always been an outsider. The first child born without the power of an element—earth, water, wind, or fire—he has little to offer his tiny, remote Outer Banks colony. Or so the Guardians would have him believe.

In the wake of an unforeseen storm, desperate pirates kidnap the Guardians, intent on claiming the island as their own. Caught between the plague-ridden mainland and the advancing pirates, Thomas and his friends fight for survival in the battered remains of a mysterious abandoned settlement. But the secrets they unearth will turn Thomas’s world upside-down, and bring to light not only a treacherous past but also a future more dangerous than he can possibly imagine.

You can read an excerpt here.


To be honest, at this point I practically wince when I pick up a post-apocalyptic or dystopian YA. It’s reflex; after so much disappointment, genre self-defense has set in. And given the jacket copy of this book (sounds familiar, no?) I have to say if Antony John hadn’t written this, I doubt I’d have picked it up – but he did and so, being the huge Five Flavors of Dumb fan that I am, I had to give it a try. And all in all, I’m glad that I did.

Here’s the thing about this book: I liked it. It’s not earth-shattering in terms of originality, and it’s not going to bowl you over with its wild plot, but it is a smooth, solidly put together, entertaining little story – which immediately puts it ahead of a ridiculous amount of the crowd. I really enjoyed how John focused in on the community, firmly establishing the dynamics and politics of the small group before letting the disaster play out, which made the big moves of this story wonderfully personal. And so I cared what happened to these people – Thomas and Alice in particular, because Alice is a fantastic, take-no-prisoners kind of girl, and Thomas is an utter sweetheart, even in spite of being the island’s misfit toy.

But – and you knew there was a but coming – here’s the other thing about this book, and it’s the inverse of my usual complaint about these types of stories. Usually my reviews go something like this: super cool idea gets stomped to bloody death by lack of execution; reader woe and trauma ensue. But this book, this book has the execution – it goes down easy, with a fun sense of danger and exploration – but what this book needs is more to say. This is a story in need of a bigger concept, in need of a cooler idea. The reveals are interesting, no question, but when that final reveal came along, I just kind of had to face the fact that this story simply didn’t cover all that much ground – it just didn’t take me very far, or add up to all that much. So while it’s fun reading to the end, the finale plays out kind of like one of those grade-school science fair volcanoes, i.e. with a fizz instead of a bang. This book just needed more to say.

And yet, this book IS still an enjoyable, entertaining read. I mean heck, I even enjoyed the mild Thomas/Rose/Alice romantic tangle – and the words “love triangle” usually make me want to run screaming from the room. (And before you start to worry, the romance stuff is a very minor plot arc, I promise.) (And for the record, I’m totally rooting for Alice.) I cared about these characters, I cared what happened next, and Antony John proved himself once again to be an eminently readable kind of author –  I just wish there had been more to it all.

Still in the end, as I said, I am glad I read this book – and really, I can’t beat up on a book too hard for being solidly fun instead of GREAT. I just hope book two has a bit more to it. 

Byrt Grade: A-/B+

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Publishers Weekly says:

John (Five Flavors of Dumb) hits several standard postapocalyptic tropes (plague, isolated community as sole bastion of civilization, scapegoated protagonist uncovering secrets), but creates engaging characters and provides plenty of mystery, adventure, and action.

Candace’s Book Blog says:

…I also feel that this is one of those ‘easier reads’ as it feels like we just skim the surface of everything. But this made it a fast read and personally, I was pretty captivated by it all and was anxious to uncover every little secret. While some things totally shocked me, others were somewhat easy to figure out. Either way it was an entertaining read that I thoroughly enjoyed!

Present Lenore says:

I absolutely loved the way the writing made the setting come alive.