Review | Red Rising by Pierce Brown

The Earth is dying. Darrow is a Red, a miner in the interior of Mars. His mission is to extract enough precious elements to one day tame the surface of the planet and allow humans to live on it. The Reds are humanity’s last hope.

Or so it appears, until the day Darrow discovers it’s all a lie. That Mars has been habitable – and inhabited – for generations, by a class of people calling themselves the Golds. A class of people who look down on Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought.

Until the day that Darrow, with the help of a mysterious group of rebels, disguises himself as a Gold and infiltrates their command school, intent on taking down his oppressors from the inside. But the command school is a battlefield – and Darrow isn’t the only student with an agenda.

3.5 cupcakes

After seeing all of the raving reviews and Goodreads Choice Award nomination, I knew that I had to give Red Rising a read. Of course, I knew absolutely nothing about the book – I hadn’t read the synopsis, and I wasn’t even sure what genre it fell under – but I can honestly say that I wasn’t expecting whatever this was. It has a dystopian/science-fiction setting and premise, but is filled with the language and world-building of high fantasy, making for a truly unique read.

The first ~30% of Red Rising was a rough read, and if it weren’t for the excellent writing and the promise that it would get better, I likely would have given up. There’s a fair amount of info-dumping and dancing that didn’t seem to be relevant to the plot. It was rather slow paced and contained a ridiculous amount of terms and slang that weren’t defined and thoroughly confused me – between bloodydamn helldivers and highColors, I had no idea what was going on at first. Thankfully, the world-building was explained as the story progressed, and I really enjoyed seeing the parallels to Roman mythology.

Once the pace picked up a bit, Red Rising really became interesting. Between military strategies, sieges, revenge, and betrayal, there was more than enough action to capture my full attention. The battles are brutal and dramatic, and the atmosphere is filled with dark tension and intrigue, making it incredibly difficult to put Red Rising down.

I wasn’t able to connect with our protagonist, Darrow. The underdog-turned-revolutionary-leader is usually something I enjoy in a book, but Darrow was just too perfect. For an uneducated member of a low caste, it was unbelievable that he would be the one person able to be artificially enhanced and compete against the most intelligent, strongest, and most powerful members of society. This level of perfection made him really difficult to relate to or sympathize with, despite the author’s best intentions.

I did, however, like the majority of the secondary characters as they were complex and, often, morally ambiguous. My favourites were easily Pax, the surprisingly kind-hearted giant, and Sevros, the wicked little “Goblin.” I really enjoyed how there were many strong female characters (like Mustang) who showed themselves capable in battle, strategizing, and at being genuinely caring individuals. Unfortunately, some of them served only to show how enlightened and heroic Darrow was, as seen by the very problematic treatment of rape over the course of the story.

Overall, there were many aspects of Red Rising that I enjoyed, but the slow pacing and my inability to connect with the protagonist somewhat dampened my reading experience. Here’s hoping that Golden Son is a smoother read.

Book Review: Landry Park by Bethany Hagen

Downton Abbey meets The Selection in this dystopian tale of love and betrayal

In a fragmented future United States ruled by the lavish gentry, seventeen-year-old Madeline Landry dreams of going to the university. Unfortunately, gentry decorum and her domineering father won’t allow that. Madeline must marry, like a good Landry woman, and run the family estate. But her world is turned upside down when she discovers the devastating consequences her lifestyle is having on those less fortunate. As Madeline begins to question everything she has ever learned, she finds herself increasingly drawn to handsome, beguiling David Dana. Soon, rumors of war and rebellion start to spread, and Madeline finds herself and David at the center of it all. Ultimately, she must make a choice between duty – her family and the estate she loves dearly – and desire.

2.5 cupcakes

Landry Park reminded me a lot of Diana Peterfreund’s For Darkness Shows the Stars, which I thoroughly enjoyed. As a result, Landry Park had high expectations to live up to — and, unfortunately, it didn’t quite meet them.

Landry Park reads as if it were historical fiction, complete with class conflict, debutante balls, and all. The world’s power stems from nuclear technology, and the society is ruled by a caste system. Imagine my surprise, then, when I find out that this book takes place in the future — in the 2300s to be exact. How the social norms, technology, and fashion regressed until they resembled the 1800s is beyond me, since the world-building was severely lacking on that front. A war with China was mentioned, along with coastal flooding, but the two were not assembled into a coherent reason as to how society came to be this way. While that may be because the main character didn’t know much about it herself, it was difficult to reconcile the futuristic setting with the customs and mannerisms of the time.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the high society scenes; given my love for period dramas and books set in the 1800s, I enjoyed reading about the ball gowns and the drama that came with a debut into society. My only complaint is that these scenes grossly overshadowed the main plot involving the Rootless and the “resistance,” making certain characters’ involvement seem half-hearted at best.

Our protagonist, Madeleine, is a member of the gentry. She wants for nothing, and dreams of attending university before she assumes control of her family’s estate. While she certainly is intelligent, her mind becomes preoccupied with thoughts of a certain boy, and the subsequent love square (or pentagon) started to irritate me. Madeleine’s weak attempts to convince us that she cares for the lower class did little to separate her from countless other heroines, making her rather forgettable.

I was very happy to see that the gentry and society members were rather diverse: society members are from all racial backgrounds, with most of them being mixed-race, and there was even the inclusion of a gay character.

Overall, Landry Park did little to distinguish itself from the many other dystopian novels out there, making it a mostly entertaining but forgettable read.

Book Review: Destroy Me by Tahereh Mafi

Perfect for the fans of Shatter Me who are desperately awaiting the release of Unravel Me, this novella-length digital original will bridge the gap between these two novels from the perspective of the villain we all love to hate, Warner, the ruthless leader of Sector 45.

In Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me, Juliette escaped from The Reestablishment by seducing Warner—and then putting a bullet in his shoulder. But as she’ll learn in Destroy Me, Warner is not that easy to get rid of. . .

Back at the base and recovering from his near-fatal wound, Warner must do everything in his power to keep his soldiers in check and suppress any mention of a rebellion in the sector. Still as obsessed with Juliette as ever, his first priority is to find her, bring her back, and dispose of Adam and Kenji, the two traitors who helped her escape. But when Warner’s father, The Supreme Commander of The Reestablishment, arrives to correct his son’s mistakes, it’s clear that he has much different plans for Juliette. Plans Warner simply cannot allow.

Set after Shatter Me and before its forthcoming sequel, Unravel Me, Destroy Me is a novella told from the perspective of Warner, the ruthless leader of Sector 45.

My Rating:  3 cupcakes

Destroy Me is told entirely from Warner’s perspective, meaning that the excessively flowery prose and the endless strikethroughs that contributed to my lack of enjoyment of Shatter Me were thankfully not present. Instead, Warner’s thoughts are clear, methodical, and organized – a contrast that is even more striking once Juliette’s diary is found.

Mafi easily explains Warner’s actions as a result of his upbringing. While his father’s actions had made him hardened against the world, he does, in fact, have a heart. Throughout Shatter Me, I found myself wondering if instalove was the only reason for Warner’s fascination with Juliette; in Destroy Me, this obsession only deepens as Warner learns just how much he truly understands Juliette. And while I was never on a “team” before, since I didn’t particularly care for Adam or Juliette, I’m inclined to admit that Warner might just be better suited for her after all.

The highlight of this e-novella, though, was definitely Warner’s tentative friendship of sorts with Delalieu. Born over coffee and inadvertent gratitude, it was a surprisingly adorable (and entirely unexpected) relationship.

Overall, Destroy Me was a pleasantly surprising read. I enjoyed getting a glimpse into Warner’s thoughts – even if most of them were focused on his obsession with Juliette – so I may just have to give the rest of the series a try.

Book Review: Pawn by Aimee Carter

YOU CAN BE A VII. IF YOU GIVE UP EVERYTHING.

For Kitty Doe, it seems like an easy choice. She can either spend her life as a III in misery, looked down upon by the higher ranks and forced to leave the people she loves, or she can become a VII and join the most powerful family in the country.

If she says yes, Kitty will be Masked—surgically transformed into Lila Hart, the Prime Minister’s niece, who died under mysterious circumstances. As a member of the Hart family, she will be famous. She will be adored. And for the first time, she will matter.

There’s only one catch. She must also stop the rebellion that Lila secretly fostered, the same one that got her killed …and one Kitty believes in. Faced with threats, conspiracies and a life that’s not her own, she must decide which path to choose—and learn how to become more than a pawn in a twisted game she’s only beginning to understand.

My Rating:  3.5 cupcakes

At first glance, Pawn seems like your average, hyped up dystopian novel. Society functions under the caste system and follows the ideals of the American Dream: if you work hard, you will be rewarded. At the age of seventeen, one’s place in society is determined through an aptitude test, which allows them to be assigned a ranking of I to VII, with VII being the highest, and those who achieve a III or below are resigned to a life of poverty and destitution. This premise may not be the most original (the test itself draws parallels to Marie Lu’s Legend series) or the most fleshed-out, but it does what any good dystopian novel should by making the reader reflect on the similarities between this flawed society and their own. In school, we’re always taught that if we work hard and achieve good grades, we will be successful in life. However, that is not always the case. Just as VII’s are only given to the Prime Minister and their family, many positions in our society are determined based on lineage, wealth or connections, so it’s not what you know, but who you know that can determine your success.

Once Kitty is offered the chance to change her rank, Pawn certainly becomes more original and more enjoyable. As Kitty undergoes her transformation to Lila Hart, the flaws in this world are certainly exposed. Secrets are uncovered, showing just how corrupt and power-hungry some members of the Hart family are, while also leaving you questioning who to trust. And Kitty isn’t the only one who realizes this — deep in the city, a rebellion is brewing, and Kitty’s voice alone can either silence or strengthen its cause.

Kitty is a fairly likeable protagonist. While she didn’t leave the best first impression, she certainly grew on me after she was Masked. Despite having the face of the most powerful girl in the country, Kitty retained the values and beliefs that she had when she was a III. She considers the consequences when making decisions, and doesn’t allow herself to be easily swayed by anyone.

The secondary characters were incredibly well written. There were no “filler” characters; all of them played an important role in the story. The villains were morally ambiguous (my favourite kind), rather than just plain “evil.” Although I didn’t agree with many of their choices, it was hard not to sympathize with them once the reasoning behind some of their decisions was brought to light.

There is a slight romantic element to the plot, but because Benjy and Kitty’s relationship had been established prior to the beginning of Pawn, there is no instalove and this relationship takes a backseat to the rest of the action. Benjy is sweet, protective, and willing to follow Kitty to the ends of the Earth despite the fact that she’s a lowly III. That kind of devotion is nice and all, but it made Benjy kind of boring to read about. Thankfully, there’s the mysterious Knox, who is Lila’s fiance and Kitty’s reluctant ally. To Carter’s credit, there wasn’t a love triangle, giving Pawn extra points in my eyes. Though, you know, given how much I like Know, I really wouldn’t mind too much if it started to turn into one in the sequel…

Overall, Pawn was a really enjoyable read filled with political intrigue, sympathetic characters, and lots of deception. The world-building may not have been that detailed, but the premise and plot were interesting enough to allow me to overlook the vague explanation for how America began using the caste system. Hopefully it will become more fleshed-out in future books.

Book Review: Allegiant by Veronica Roth

The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.

But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.

Told from a riveting dual perspective, Allegiant, by #1 New York Times best-selling author Veronica Roth, brings the Divergent series to a powerful conclusion while revealing the secrets of the dystopian world that has captivated millions of readers in Divergent and Insurgent.

My Rating: 3.5 cupcakes

After seeing countless reviews that claimed that Allegiant had ruined the series for readers and having a pivotal scene spoiled for me courtesy of Facebook friends who don’t understand that not everyone was able to read it on the release date, I was a bit nervous about starting this book. After finishing, it seems as though I’m a black sheep on this one: Allegiant took me on an emotional roller coaster ride, but it was one that I certainly enjoyed.

The narration in Allegiant is told from two perspectives: Tris and Four’s. A lot of other reviews have complained about how “weak” Four appears in this book, but I see it as the complete opposite; after getting a glimpse into Four’s head, it’s clear that he must be strong to shoulder all of his burdens and demons by himself. I really enjoyed getting a glimpse at his motivations and deep-rooted insecurities as they served to make him more real. While I did enjoy the dual POV and understand its necessity, Tris and Four’s voices were often indistinguishable, to the point where I occasionally had to flip back and see whose perspective I was reading from. It didn’t take away from my reading experience by any means, but I do wish that there was tighter writing in some places to give Four a distinct voice.

I loved Roth’s exploration of all of the characters, and how well fleshed out they were. Grief, loss, and desperation have changed them all from the characters that we first met in Divergent and I felt for all of them – including Caleb, which was a bit of a surprise for me.

The plot was well-paced and interesting, though a few parts at the beginning seemed to consist mostly of info-dumping. This did cause the beginning to feel rather slow, but this information was necessary to put the final touches on the world-building. There’s so much going on in Allegiant, multiple threads of a storyline that are all building up to one big event: the climax. Roth holds nothing back as the characters are tested and caused to question their morals and beliefs. She doesn’t write the ending that the reader wants; instead, she writes the story that needs to be told. It’s a heartbreaking yet beautiful finish and, in my opinion, is the only way that this series could have authentically ended.

As a sidenote, if you’ve finished reading Allegiant, you should take a look at Veronica Roth’s blog post regarding why the series ended the way that it did. It’s a beautiful explanation.

ARC Review: Countdown by Michelle Rowen

3 seconds left to live. Once the countdown starts, it cannot be stopped. 

2 pawns thrown into a brutal underground reality game. 

Kira Jordan survived her family’s murder and months on plague-devastated city streets with hard-won savvy and a low-level psi ability. She figures she can handle anything. Until she wakes up in a barren room, chained next to the notorious Rogan Ellis. 

1 reason Kira will never, ever trust Rogan. Even though both their lives depend on it. 

Their every move is controlled and televised for a vicious exclusive audience. And as Kira’s psi skill unexpectedly grows and Rogan’s secrets prove evermore deadly, Kira’s only chance of survival is to risk trusting him as much as her instincts. Even if that means running head-on into the one trap she can’t escape. 

GAME 0VER

My Rating: 2 cupcakes

Countdown is a fast-paced read that contains a bit of everything: a dystopian society, plenty of action, romance, futuristic technology, and even slight supernatural elements. While all of these ideas were interesting, it felt as though Rowen was trying to include too much in one novel, causing many aspects to feel rushed and underdeveloped.

The premise itself reminded me of a mix of The Hunger Games and Saw: contestants are forced to play a game that could cost them their lives, while a bloodthirsty audience hangs on to every moment. The challenges themselves weren’t nearly as terrifying as I had expected them to be. Each task lasted for about five to ten minutes, which didn’t leave room for much development or for much suspense — judging by the little amount of time the tasks took and the amount of remaining pages, there was never any reason to worry about the protagonists’ safety.

The worldbuilding was virtually non-existent. We learn that it has been 25 years since the Great Plague decimated sixty percent of the population, leaving the city in shambles. There are brief mentions of what the world was like before, but we never learn anything else about it. We’re never told how the Plague began, where it struck, what was done to prevent it or whether or not the rest of the world was affected by the Plague as well. Granted, we are told that the Plague caused mutations in certain members of the population, granting them psi powers, but that’s barely explained aside from the scenes showing Kira using her own psi abilities.

I never became overly invested in any of the characters, though that’s not to say that I didn’t like them. Kira flip-flops from trusting to suspicious at the drop of a hat, which makes sense given her past and her present circumstances, though it became a bit tiring to read about. She’s strong and self-reliant, and is willing to think before she acts — especially when that action may result in someone else’s death. Rogan is your typical YA love interest: an attractive bad boy with a tortured past. I enjoyed finding out about the circumstances that led him to participate in the Countdown, and his sarcastic banter with Kira was fun to read.

When you’re fighting for your life, you would think that you’d have other things to worry about than whether or not your partner in the challenges is a viable romantic interest, right? I know I would. Kira, though, clearly didn’t agree. I lost count of the number of times she commented on how attractive Rogan was, and even though they had only known each other for a few days, she was more than willing to jump into bed with him. I know that life or death situations can cause people to form close relationships very quickly, but still.

Overall, Countdown had so much potential to be an excellent book, but its rushed, underdeveloped nature caused it to fall a little flat. The action scenes were well written and fun to read, but were ultimately overshadowed by the insta-romance.

Teaser Tuesday (August 6)

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly event hosted by Should Be Reading, which asks you to grab your current read, open to a random page, and share two teaser sentences.

This week’s teaser comes from SYLO by D.J. MacHale.

Does Tucker Pierce have what it takes to be a hero when the U.S. military quarantines his island?

Fourteen-year-old Tucker Pierce prefers to fly under the radar. He’s used to navigating around summer tourists in his hometown on idyllic Pemberwick Island, Maine. He’s content to sit on the sidelines as a backup player on the high school football team. And though his best friend Quinn tells him to “go for it,” he’s too chicken to ask Tori Sleeper on a date. There’s always tomorrow, he figures. Then Pemberwick Island is invaded by a mysterious branch of the U.S. military called SYLO. And sitting on the sidelines is no longer an option for Tucker, because tomorrow may never come.

It’s up to Tucker, Quinn, and Tori to uncover the truth about the singing aircraft that appears only at night—and the stranger named Feit who’s pushing a red crystal he calls the Ruby that brings unique powers to all who take it. Tucker and his friends must rescue not just Pemberwick Island, but the fate of the world—and all before tomorrow is too late. 

“Marty sprinted to the back of the end zone, turned to the stands, threw his arms up in triumph… and dropped dead. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time.” – page 5

Leave a comment with your teasers or a link to your Teaser Tuesday post in the comments below.
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Saturday Showcase (August 3)

Saturday Showcase is a weekly event hosted here at The In-Between Place which features books that you wish more people had read (or, at least, heard about). This week’s featured books are the Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness.

Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee — whose thoughts Todd can hear too, whether he wants to or not — stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden — a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives.

But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought?

These are some of the best YA dystopian novels I’ve ever read. The writing style is unique, the characters are loveable, the animals can talk (through their thoughts, but still), and it addresses so many important themes. It’s such a powerful series, and I highly, highly recommend it.

What are some of your favourite underrated books? Leave me a list or a link to your post in the comments below.
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ARC Review: Viral Nation by Shaunta Grimes

1After a virus claimed nearly the entire global population, the world changed. The United States splintered into fifty walled cities where the surviving citizens clustered to start over. The Company, which ended the plague by bringing a life-saving vaccine back from the future, controls everything. They ration the scant food and supplies through a lottery system, mandate daily doses of virus suppressant, and even monitor future timelines to stop crimes before they can be committed.

Brilliant but autistic, sixteen-year-old Clover Donovan has always dreamed of studying at the Waverly-Stead Academy. Her brother and caretaker, West, has done everything in his power to make her dream a reality. But Clover’s refusal to part with her beloved service dog denies her entry into the school. Instead, she is drafted into the Time Mariners, a team of Company operatives who travel through time to gather news about the future.

When one of Clover’s missions reveals that West’s life is in danger, the Donovans are shattered. To change West’s fate, they’ll have to take on the mysterious Company. But as its secrets are revealed, they realize that the Company’s rule may not be as benevolent as it seems. In saving her brother, Clover will face a more powerful force than she ever imagined… and will team up with a band of fellow misfits and outsiders to incite a revolution that will change their destinies forever.

My Rating: 4 cupcakes

At first, Viral Nation seems just like all of the other YA dystopian novels on the market: a horrible event (in this case, a virus) decimated the world’s population causing one group (the Company) to take charge. This group is believed to have the best interest of the people at heart until the main character finds information that causes them to question everything they know about their society. However, Viral Nation manages to turn these common elements into a unique, gripping, and memorable storyline.

Viral Nation immediately grabs attention by giving readers a first-hand look at the devastation that the virus is causing. It’s heart-wrenching, and allows the reader to feel all of the conflicting emotions that the characters feel – especially the immense sense of relief when the suppressant is discovered. This is incredibly important, as it makes it easy to sympathize with all of the characters and their fear of the virus, while also heightening the sense of betrayal that is felt as more and more information is revealed about the Company.

The characters were all exceptionally written. The main reason that I picked up Viral Nation was due to the fact that Clover is autistic, which is rarely seen in YA novels unless they’re an “issue” story. (A notable exception is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which I absolutely love). It was really interesting to look at the world through her eyes, and I felt that her personality and mannerisms (dislike of extreme stimulation, difficulty following social cues) were handled very well. I loved her relationships with her brother, West, and her service dog, Mango. West is the brother that I wish I had – he’s incredibly supportive of Clover, to the point where he’s willing to sacrifice his own dreams to give her a chance to pursue her own. Though he may occasionally get frustrated with her inability to cope with excessive sensory stimulation, it was really nice to see the unconditional love and affection between the two of them.

As a huge Doctor Who fangirl, I really enjoyed the time travel aspects of the story. While there were a few plot holes that were chalked up to being a result of the time loop, it was executed quite well and helped separate Viral Nation from all of the cookie-cutter dystopian novels.

Overall, Viral Nation was a very enjoyable, character-driven story. I look forward to reading the sequel!

Thanks to Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Legend by Marie Lu

2What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths—until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

My Rating:  4 cupcakes

I’m a sucker for anything that has the sales pitch “if you liked The Hunger Games, you’ll like this.” While it may seem like all new dystopian novels are being described in this way, Legend is one of the few that I believe truly lives up to this comparison. It’s a quick, fun read that immerses the reader in action-filled scenes straight away.

The events of Legend take place in a futuristic Los Angeles with a strong military presence working to combat the spread of Plagues that are affecting the poorer sectors. The worldbuilding is more visual than explanatory; it’s easy to picture this dystopian world, though there isn’t much description in terms of what happened to bring the United States to this state. The Patriots, the Republic and the Colonies are frequently mentioned, although their backstories aren’t ever completely fleshed out. Hopefully the sequel will dig deeper and provide more details about this world that Marie Lu has created.

The story is told through the alternating perspectives of June and Day, who are both prodigies in their own right, though one is being trained for the military while the other is a wanted criminal. They are from completely different backgrounds, and as the reader we get to experience both of these environments firsthand through the dual narrations. Both protagonists were strong, intelligent, resourceful, and likeable, though their voices were often interchangeable – if it weren’t for the gold text (which took a bit to get used to) indicating that Day was narrating, I likely would have kept mixing him up with June. The secondary characters were likeable too, but they weren’t as well-developed as June and Day; they seemed more like plot devices than actual people, though that may be due to their lack of page time.

Overall, Legend is a very enjoyable read with a movie-like feel to it. Between street fighting, government plots, riots, and escape scenes, there was never a shortage of excitement to keep the plot moving at its quick pace. It’s easy enough to get wrapped up in the story, and makes the few issues I had with it easy to overlook. I can’t wait to get my hands on Prodigy!