Book Two of the Birthright series
By Gabrielle Zevin
Available now from Farrar Straus Giroux (Macmillan)
Gabrielle Zevin returns to the future world of ALL THESE THINGS I'VE DONE, where chocolate and coffee are illegal and water carefully rationed. Anya Balanchine is the oldest daughter of the most powerful chocolate cartel, but her cousins are the ones battling over control of the business. She's content to stay free. After all, she spent the summer in juvenile detention. It's the straight and narrow for Anya.
For a bit.
Anya is a frustrating character. She's in a position where she needs to be politically savvy and ruthless, but she is very much a seventeen-year-old girl. She's worried about school and her boyfriend-she-shouldn't-have far more than the family business. That gets her into trouble at times. It might be less frustrating if the book weren't narrated by an older Anya who likes to point out when her younger self makes a mistake.
BECAUSE IT IS MY BLOOD takes awhile to get going too. Anya has to go away, and it serves the narrative since she learns important skills in Mexico, but it also separates her from the supporting cast. The absence of her best friend Scarlet is particularly felt. Scarlet's got a spark that's great for lighting Anya up. It does mean more of the mysterious Yuji Ono, head of a rival chocolate family, which isn't a bad thing. He comes across, to me, like a peek at Anya's future. But things really get moving once Anya returns to New York after an assassination attempt. Assassination always gets things moving.
I like spending time in the Birthright world. Zevin seems to have put more thought into worldbuilding than many dystopian authors. Her world isn't wildly repressive, but there are obviously some things that have changed for the worse since our time. It's not too extreme, to where you wonder how people could ever act in such a way.
Zevin also writes with compassion for the system that makes it hard for anyone marked as a criminal to be anything but a criminal. Anya wants to be a forensic scientist, but no school wants her to attend since she's been incarcerated. Just getting a high school education requires navigating several obstacles. That's not so different from now.
BECAUSE IT IS MY BLOOD does a good job of being a dystopia that will appeal to non-dystopia fans. There's enough crime drama and exploration of social issues to satisfy a variety of readers. I, for one, will be back for the next Birthright novel.