[Review] Ch05en: Ivy – William Dickstein

We’re here today with another review, this time of Ch05en: Ivy, a dystopian superhero novel by William Dickstein! Ch05en is a longer series of novellas and collections, of which Ivy is the most recent entry. I’m more than likely going to slip and refer to this book as Ch05en at least once during this review, so I apologize for that. As always, full disclosure – I received an ARC for free in exchange for an honest review.

This book follows Ivy, a young woman in a world of ‘Capes’, superheros powered by the Ch05en gene. Awakening to her powers on the night of her father’s murder, Ivy is put in a quandary; she doesn’t know what her power is, and no one has been able to help her. All that she knows is she hears voices – voices no one else can hear, voices that seem ready and waiting to help her.

On the opposite side is Lochlan, an android who works for The Control, an organization that handles the collection and recruitment of those who are found to be gifted with abilities. Lochlan is called out to investigate a Cape who has defected from their side, and before long, their paths cross. Mysteries abound, answers are few, and both soon realize there’s more going on.

Check it out on Amazon!

Just to put it out there early – I enjoyed this book xD As always, I’m going to try and remain spoiler-free through this review, but let’s dive into how I felt about this novel!

What about this book worked for me?

First and foremost, I’d like to give a shoutout to the first chapter of Ch05en. First chapters are hard. I’ve had more arguments and debates over story openers than pretty much any other topic among the writers of /r/RedditSerials. It’s a subject that comes up over and over again, and no one has just the right answer.

With that said, then, the first chapter of this book hooked me in a way that, frankly, not many of the books I’ve reviewed have. The book opens with a dark scene, the young girl and her brother fleeing and hiding while their Cape father is murdered in front of them. It does a wonderful job of setting the dark, ominous tone of the book, and it certainly does create a lasting first impression.

And that’s really where I’d like to start with what Dickstein does well – to me, the characters felt totally real and totally plausible. Emotions were conveyed simply and well, and that made the whole thing feel very authentic. When my heartstrings get tugged at, without making it feel like you’re whapping me over the head screaming cry, damn you, it makes the whole thing that much more enjoyable.

To add to that point, dialogue felt extremely natural to me in Ivy. That seems like a little thing, but it’s such a palpable relief to read an interaction and not have it come off stilted. It makes the world that much more immersive, and immersion is very important for me. If I’m getting pulled out of the world because the language didn’t flow correctly, it has a dramatic impact on how much I enjoyed the read. Ivy really impressed me with that.

All of this was tied together with a relatable, plausible central conflict and storyline. I was interested. Ivy’s struggles and questions felt important, and it was easy to put yourself in her shoes. As a first person story, I consider that to be a huge facet of a story’s quality 🙂

All right, was that cheerful enough?

Let’s begin.

What about this book did I struggle with?

Just as a housekeeping bit, since I always talk about it, I felt that Ivy was by and large well edited, with a few notable sticking points. There were a number of places where things were described in present tense, even while the story was in past tense. That was a little jarring. It was not a big deal, considering the majority of the story is in first person, but there were also a few places in Lochlan’s chapter (written in third person) where a few lines of that first person prose slipped in. Now, I think that a lot of this was intentional, but intentional or not, it felt awkward to me. If I have to sit there and hem and haw as to if something was a mistake or what the author wanted, then the effect is lost. Put together, my impression of the book on a technical level was that Dickstein is very capable and it was solidly built, but with a few burrs that could have been smoothed over/spotted.

It’s also worth noting that I’m a notorious grammar nazi, so take all of that with a grain of salt 🙂

But on to the real stuff!

So, one of the first things I struggled with was this. Like I said, the first chapter of Ivy really hooked me in, solidly. I loved it.

After that first chapter, though?

Well, after the first chapter, the point of view changes, and we follow Lochlan the android for a while as he navigates The Control. I…did not enjoy this chapter as much. It wasn’t bad, and I enjoyed the concept of his story and The Control. Little by little, though, something began to become a little apparent to me.

Generally, I found that starting with Lochlan’s chapter, the prose became a little more passive. In short, that generally means that instead of the character doing things, it reads as things happening to the character. It wasn’t a massive concern, but I hadn’t felt that about the opener.

But, on the whole, I found that the passive issue did continue on through the first person sections, even while it wasn’t book-breaking. It was clear that Dickstein had a thoroughly developed world, but at times, it felt as though we spent more time being told about a story than explaining it. There were large sections of exposition, especially early on, and I did find myself struggling not to skim through some of that. There was also a fair amount of story-telling, of people explaining situations, scenarios, and rules to the main character.

Did it keep me from enjoying the book? No, it didn’t. But it made some sections a bit of a slog, and at times it felt like the story was trying to cram all of the backstory and world-specific lore into a few chapters of dense explanation, versus letting it breathe and come out more naturally. That did make it a bit overwhelming.

Final thoughts?

I think that Ivy is a solid, enjoyable take on a superhero story. It’s a little more traditional in the setup as far as it being cape fic, so for those of you who aren’t into that, just be aware – but within that, it really does break away from a lot of the vibes of most superhero fiction. It’s a darker story, with a lot of politics and intrigue. The plot is well crafted, and the characters are solid.

Despite what I’ve said about the passive voice and exposition-heavy sections, I did enjoy reading Ivy. The premise was intriguing and exciting, and the characters were relatable enough to keep me emotionally attached. That nets it the half-point boost upwards to round out its score 🙂

Final score: 3.5/5 (4 for the sake of scoring)