Although I was dimly aware that a new book in the Uglies universe was coming out this year, I hadn’t paid a whole lot of attention to Impostors, so it’s mostly chance that I stumbled upon it in the library less than a month after publication. (I’m surprised my library had it so quickly, to be honest!)
Mostly, my lack of attention was because when I reread Uglies a little while ago… I felt like I’d outgrown it somewhat. I wasn’t sure whether I was interested in another book in that series, even though I’ve read and enjoyed some of Westerfeld’s other books.
But I’m please to say I was actually pleasantly surprised by it. I suppose because I associated it with Uglies, I expected it to have a similar writing style, but it’s very clear that Westerfeld has improved as a writer since he wrote the original series, and it’s more enjoyable to read as a result. While there’s still some slang, it didn’t feel as juvenile, and overall I liked the prose a lot more than I was expecting.
It’s hard to judge it as a book in its own right, though, because it belongs to this preexisting universe. I found myself comparing it to Uglies, instead of experiencing it at face value. The extent of overlap isn’t huge: there are references to some of the characters from Uglies and at least one actually appears on-page, but it’s primarily focused on a whole new set of characters. The world has also changed a lot.
Since the events of the Uglies series, the world has become very different, and in some ways… I felt it had become less original. Uglies had a unique premise: a world centred around plastic surgery at various stages in your life, with bonus mind control elements. It was utterly unlike anything else I’d read when I first picked it up, which is why I liked it so much.
Impostors, on the other hand, felt more like your standard scifi story, although it did that well. While some elements of it could be considered dystopian, others really weren’t, and there were a variety of settings that helped keep it feeling fresh. There were some references to the tech from the original series, as well as some new advancements, and a few of the surgery techniques that were central to Uglies appear peripherally here (flash tattoos, for example), but on the whole, I felt like it had kind of lost what made the original series so great.
Having said that, it did have a few other points in its favour over the earlier books: better prose, as I mentioned earlier; a romance that didn’t make me roll my eyes too hard; and queer representation. (Including a character who uses they/them pronouns! Which was dropped in so casually I almost skimmed over it and it only caught my eye after they’d been on page for a while. I had to go back and check where I’d missed it.)
It’s also centred around a very dysfunctional but incredibly important sibling relationship, between Frey and Rafi, the sister for whom she was raised as a body double. While they’re separated for a lot of the book, I really liked how Frey was motivated by her sister, and how Rafi’s feelings towards her were explored too.
Plus, Frey is a screwed-up murder child, and you know I like those.
My conclusion, then: as a sci-fi story in its own right, this was an enjoyable, quick read; as the latest installment in the Uglies series, I felt it had lost something of the original series’ nature, but gained a few other positives in place of that.
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