Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Review - The First Principle by Marissa Shrock - CSFF Blog Tour

This is Julie with the CSFF Blog tour!

Book: The First Principle by Marissa Shrock

Ridiculously simplified summary: 
The United States has collapsed into a totalitarian empire where minors receive mandatory birth control and, should that fail, abortions. When the district governor's daughter finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, she must choose between submitting to the termination of the pregnancy, or going underground with the people who would fight to remake the government...

Content: Very Evangelical, with several "conversion talks." Several violent deaths, not described in extreme detail. The lead character is a 15-year-old or 16-year-old (depending on if you believe Amazon's description or Rebecca LuElla Miller's correction below) who had sex outside of marriage and who gets pregnant. There's talk of abortion, a procedure which all "respectable" people in the society consider appropriate.


Characters - 6 out of 10. Vivica, the main character, was interesting enough--shockingly capable of getting herself out of messy situations and gifted at computer hacking.  It's first-person but her emotions aren't made manifest in the writing, and I still don't understand her motivations. I found Ben, the object of her affections, to be rather boring and not particularly likable, while Drake (the final player in a semi-love-triangle) was infuriatingly charming and compelling. Most of the villains were painted with broad strokes, but Vivica's mother, the governor, was somewhat more nuanced. I think the portrayals were appropriate for the genre, but I was hoping for something that might work better for older readers, too.

(It was another novel where all the women of consequence are mothers and/or pregnant; those who aren't, are not portrayed in a positive light. I don't think that's terribly uncommon for Christian novels at this point.)

Suspense/stakes - 5 out of 5. I read this over a weekend, rather unusual for me. Finding out about the underground was interesting and seeing how Vivica will get out of her next jam kept the pages turning for me.

World building - 4 out of 5. The world felt fairly detailed to me, with explanations of how the totalitarian government had developed, slang terms for their equivalent of cell phones, and so forth. Some of the details in the government seem scarily plausible. That said, I would have liked to "see" the physical places more clearly.

Writing/editing - 4 out of 5.  I thought the writing was fine and didn't notice any typographical errors. My main issue was that I felt incredibly distanced from Vivica's feelings and pain. There's some emotional angst, but even when she gets slapped at one point, she (tells us she) literally doesn't feel it when it happens. I tend to write less emotionally myself, but when the subject matter is a character deciding to turn her back on her entire world because there's a baby growing inside her, I expected her to have more emotions. I'd expected her, for instance, to have some kind of turning point when she felt the baby inside her, perhaps, but I saw nothing of the sort.  Maybe that's an intentional technique, though.

Clarity - 4 out of 5. Overall I had no trouble following the action. There were a couple chase scenes where I got a bit lost because the scenery wasn't described in detail so I couldn't follow where they were going.

Plausibility/believability - 3 out of 5.  This is kind of tricky for me. The explanations for how Christianity became illegal struck me as scary-plausible, to the point that I'm wondering if I should start learning more about hacking (although I feel like making the fake identities needed in dystopian worlds might be more fantasy than anything else). But I didn't personally "believe" Vivica's transformation or her progression towards Christianity. In today's political climate, I really wanted to read a compelling account of why a girl decided against abortion when the government mandated it, but she only rarely showed compassion for her unborn child, never seemed to really think of it as a human (referring to it as a "baby" but not anything about its potential). Her decision seemed to me to be initiated mostly from the fact that the boy she has a crush on begs her not to kill "his" baby, despite the fact that he has no ability (and to me, no interest) in actually supporting the baby once it's born. Arguing that a baby has a right to life because the father wants the baby to live, isn't exactly going to appeal to people who consider it a woman's decision. Frankly, I think the baby has an inherent right to life, but when a deadbeat father is making the argument, that really rankles me.

(I could be wrong, but it also seems to me like ALL of the rebels are Christians, which is good for Christians but I'm not sure if it's realistic...I feel like if freedoms were stripped away like this, it might not be just Christians fighting. Even the very secular The Handmaid's Tale acknowledged that in a world where freedoms are stripped in the name of some twisted version of Christianity, people who want to read the actual Bible will be persecuted, but it seems like some Christian books don't acknowledge the strange bedfellows we just might end up with in bad times...)

Positive - 4 out of 5. The ending is positive enough, though there's a lot of darkness to get there. While the main character turns to Christianity, she doesn't seem to focus on the hope it gives for the people she lost along the way...it was just kind of disconnected to me.

Gut reaction - 3 out of 5. Exciting story that I personally think could have benefited from a dose of emotion, particularly given the subject matter.

Free points: 5 out of 5.

Recommended for: Teen girls who are fans of dystopian fiction.

Total Rating: 3.8 out of 5 stars

Click below to see what other tour members think!

Thomas Clayton Booher
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
April Erwin
Carol Gehringer
Victor Gentile
Carol Keen
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Megan @ Hardcover Feedback
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Jalynn Patterson
Chawna Schroeder
Jessica Thomas
Shane Werlinger

*In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I was sent a free copy of this book.


  1. I always enjoy reading your thoughts, Julie. I only have one point of major disagreement. I thought Viv's motivation for wanting to keep the baby was strong. Not at first, when she was undecided. But that one night when she met Ben and told him about discovering her own ultrasound. [SPOILERS] It showed three babies in her mother's womb, then she confronted her mother about the two sisters she never got to have. She realized then, at age 11, that she could have died if she hadn't been the biggest and strongest of the triplets. (BTW, she was 16 when she got pregnant, and had her 17th birthday before her baby was born).

    I pretty much agree about the emotional aspect, but if you think about it, Viv's mom was not the warm and cuddly sort, so it would have been a real stretch for Viv to come out as this emotionally in touch sort of person. I did think there were times when she expressed emotion, but it was more told than shown. So that's where I think the book could have been a little stronger. Ha! I hope I remember to say this when I write my review tomorrow!


    1. Thank you! I'll make a note of the age issue in my review, but the promotional text on Amazon currently refers to her as "fifteen-year-old Vivica Wilkins," so I'm not sure what is up with that.

      I think you're right about the telling versus showing; I didn't really "feel" the emotion with that pivotal scene, so I didn't buy into it so much. I'm about halfway through Divergent and thus far, I think the premise is substantially less plausible than The First Principle's, but being closer inside the main character's head masks some of the problems. (It DOES make sense that Vivica was not emotional, absolutely; it just made it a bit more challenging for me to feel along with her.)

      Looking forward to your review!

  2. I agree there should have been others who were rebelling against the government. One couldn't honestly believe that everyone who wasn't a Christian would just fall into place becoming nodding heads of agreement to any and everything the government put into place.

    As for her emotional distance, she may be one of those individuals who has difficulty expressing and understanding what she feels.

    1. I think maybe more scary is how many so-called Christians fell right in line...realistic, but scary!

      I'm sure you're right about the emotional distance. It was the right decision for who the character was; it just wasn't what I expected. Thanks for dropping by!

  3. I had trouble "believing" Vivica's transformation, too.

    I enjoyed Drake's character, but I was glad he and Vivica never went anywhere romantically. I've seen too many fictional romances begin with a relationship like theirs, and it was never very plausible. And I never thought of Ben as "deadbeat"; he seemed willing to do whatever Vivica would allow him to.

    As always, Julie, glad to read your thoughts.

    1. I just didn't find Ben likable so I probably went a bit hard on him. (But I'm kind of gonna go worse tomorrow, LOL) As much as I like a romance, I think you're right that Drake and Vivica belong apart.

      Thanks for stopping by; looking forward to reading your thoughts!

  4. Loved your review and enjoyed everyone's comments. I was struck by the class system that was firmly in place. Interesting in light of the current thoughts on "income equality". Thanks for such a thorough review.


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