Duology Review: Want & Ruse by Cindy Pon

The Want duology is a critically important addition to YA and speculative fiction, and more people should be talking about this book! Want tackles social and political issues: wealth disparity, access to healthcare, climate change and environmental issues, all with a found family of misfits set on changing the world for the better.

I’ll admit that it may not be the best time to read speculative fiction that hits so close to reality right now. TLDR: I wholly recommend reading the Want duology but please be sure you are in the right mindset when picking it up as it deals with viruses and may not make for the best pandemic reading experience.

Want tackles social and political issues: wealth disparity, access to healthcare, climate change and environmental issues, all with a found family of misfits set on changing the world for the better. Click To Tweet

About Want

Publisher: Simon Pulse  |  Release Date: June 13, 2017  |  Pages: 328
Genre: Young Adult, Speculative Fiction  |  Format: Hardcover  |  Source: Giveaway

Want coverJason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits that protect them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother, who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.

With the help of his friends, Zhou infiltrates the lives of the wealthy in hopes of destroying the international Jin Corporation from within. Jin Corp not only manufactures the special suits the rich rely on, but they may also be manufacturing the pollution that makes them necessary.

Yet the deeper Zhou delves into this new world of excess and wealth, the more muddled his plans become. And against his better judgment, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO. Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is or destroying his own heart?

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My Review of Want

✨ You can read this book for free on RivetedLit this month (May 2020)!

This is a critically important addition to YA and speculative fiction, and more people should be talking about this book! Want tackles social and political issues: wealth disparity, access to healthcare, climate change and environmental issues, all with a found family of misfits set on changing the world for the better.

The book starts in media res, and I’ll admit that it took a little bit of time for me to settle into the story and situate myself within the world. But what is evident from the first pages is the wealth disparity and inequity in this near-future Taipei.

“Without. We want and are left wanting.”

Thanks to lax environmental regulations and climate change, Taipei is heavily polluted by a toxic smog and viruses run rampant. Jin Corp has developed a way to survive in this new normal: special suits and regulated air spaces for those who can afford it. For everyone else? Their lives are brutal and not expected to go beyond 40.

“Books were my escapism, my retreat. They were how I related to this senseless world we lived in.”

Want is told in the first-person perspective of Zhou, who lost his mother to pneumonia because they couldn’t afford to treat it. He and his friends are tired of the status quo developed over the past two generations; the quiet acceptance and adaptation to a polluted world. And they’re determined to do something about it. (It’s in the synopsis, so I won’t rehash it.)

This is a book with a bit of a slow build, but the plot offers just enough information to keep the reader reading and guessing. I found this to be mainly plot-driven and by the middle of the book I was unable to put the book down! I was least invested in the actual heist bits for some reason, but really came to love the characters by the end of the book. There is a sapphic relationship that is legit my favorite, in addition to Zhou’s forbidden romantic interests with his enemy’s daughter, but romance isn’t a huge part of this story, though it likely will in Ruse.

“Taipei’s youth had become chameleons. If we couldn’t change the dirty smog that smothered our city, we could at least control how we appeared.”

Privilege is at the fore of this story, and our main character Zhou is left navigating the you world he despises. One of my favorite tropes is when a character learns their worldview is limited, and in Want it is two-fold. I appreciate how he brings up that throwing money at a symptom doesn’t fix the issues in society, and that at least one of the yous at the party agrees with him, prompting an actual discussion. “Reality always crushes your ideals”, but I like how the characters in the book refuse to sit idly and wait for death.

The world Pon crafted is bleak and terrifyingly plausible. Her descriptions of Taipei, heavily polluted and dystopian, painted a clear picture of my mind. I like how the tech is close enough to what we have now; it feels different but familiar, which adds to the question “well, how far into the future are we?” unease. In terms of the world-building, I wish it had been clear earlier whether or not the pollution issues were limited to Taipei or global. (As well as one other gripe that is a massive spoiler.) It feels like there is a lot more to be developed on these fronts that I hope will be tackled in Ruse.

This is a duology about the haves versus the have-nots: the yous versus the meis. Taipei in this near-future has most definitely stratified a population on the brink of devastation for profit: those who can afford fancy suits and regulated air spaces live normal lives, unbothered by the suffering of everyone else. It’s tough to not read this book during the COVID-19 pandemic and think about the parallels as it pertains to healthcare, and I think that is what makes this such a chilling read. It’s not only plausible, but probable.

“The rich wear special suits that protect them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city.”

Overall, I enjoyed Want and am excited to dive straight into Ruse! I’ll admit that reading this book during a pandemic is a little on-the-nose frightening, so be sure you’re in the right headspace to pick this one up. It’s an important discussion of society and privilege, and is even more relevant now.

✨ This was the Read Voraciously Book Club pick for May 2020!

Representation: Asian representation, f/f relationship
Content warnings: death, loss of a loved one, lab animals and testing, murder, viral epidemic (wearing facemasks, coughing spreads virus)

About Ruse

Publisher: Simon Pulse  |  Release Date: March 12, 2019  |  Pages: 297
Genre: Young Adult, Speculative Fiction  |  Format: Hardcover  |  Source: Purchased

Ruse coverIn near-future Shanghai, a group of teens have their world turned upside down when one of their own is kidnapped in this action-packed follow-up to the “positively chilling” sci-fi thriller Want.

Jason Zhou, his friends, and Daiyu are still recovering from the aftermath of bombing Jin Corp headquarters. But Jin, the ruthless billionaire and Daiyu’s father, is out for blood. When Lingyi goes to Shanghai to help Jany Tsai, a childhood acquaintance in trouble, she doesn’t expect Jin to be involved. And when Jin has Jany murdered and steals the tech she had refused to sell him, Lingyi is the only one who has access to the encrypted info, putting her own life in jeopardy.

Zhou doesn’t hesitate to fly to China to help Iris find Lingyi, even though he’s been estranged from his friends for months. But when Iris tells him he can’t tell Daiyu or trust her, he balks. The reunited group play a treacherous cat and mouse game in the labyrinthine streets of Shanghai, determined on taking back what Jin had stolen.

When Daiyu appears in Shanghai, Zhou is uncertain if it’s to confront him or in support of her father. Jin has proudly announced Daiyu will be by his side for the opening ceremony of Jin Tower, his first “vertical city.” And as hard as Zhou and his friends fight, Jin always gains the upper hand. Is this a game they can survive, much less win?

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My Review of Ruse

Well, I devoured this in just over three hours. As a story on its own, I enjoyed Ruse more than Want; however, the duology as a whole left some questions unanswered from the first book.

“Clean air is a luxury.”

Ruse is fast-paced and full of action. If you enjoyed the heist elements of Want, you won’t be disappointed! I like how it tackles issues of privacy a bit as well as corporate espionage in addition to the social and political themes explored in the prior book.

“Our strength is in each other.”

I loved having multiple perspectives in this book, although it was a little jarring to having Zhou’s in first person and the others in third person. I found myself more connected with Lingyi’s perspective and I think the disconnect I felt with Want is a result of my not completely vibing with Zhou’s perspective. Which was nice to finally put my finger on! Lingyi and Iris are my absolute favorites and I’m very thankful that the characters are all dealing with the events of Want in their own way.

“If not us, then who.”

Ultimately, I loved Ruse but it doesn’t quite feel like a direct sequel if that makes sense? There are a few threads from the first book that just didn’t go anywhere and that did hamper my overall enjoyment a bit, but this is a critically important duology that I recommend!

Representation: Asian representation, f/f relationship, PTSD representation
Content warnings: depictions of grief, loss, murder, violence

Want & Ruse photo

Are you a fan of speculative fiction? Have you read Want yet or is it on your TBR?

spacer_wLet’s go on another adventure together!

10 Comments

  1. Evelyn

    May 28, 2020 at 12:33 AM

    This duology has been on and off my TBR quite a bit haha, mainly because I never really knew what it was about! But now I really want to read it!

    (www.evelynreads.com)

    1. Kal

      June 3, 2020 at 6:09 PM

      It’s interesting because the book wound up being about more than what I thought based on my initial reading of the synopsis, so I can definitely understand! I hope you enjoy it if you do pick it up, Evelyn!

  2. Tasya @ The Literary Huntress

    May 28, 2020 at 7:16 AM

    Great review Kal! I just posted my review of Want today and while I agree the issues discussed are really important and relevant, especially since the future depicted in the book is VERY plausible, ultimately it just doesn’t work for me 😬 I’m still interested with reading Ruse and I hope it will be better!

    1. Kal

      June 3, 2020 at 6:13 PM

      Thank you, Tasya! I am sorry that the book didn’t quite work for you – I am going to check out your review!

  3. Riza @ Pages and Coffee Cups

    May 28, 2020 at 10:44 PM

    Thanks for this review, Kal! I absolutely loved and enjoyed Want when I was reading it. And I agree that it was so terrifyingly plausible that sometimes it’s hard to imagine it. I have a quote I kept going back to from Want: “My mind kept returning to this image, the crisp purity of it. Unapologetic and true.” and it just keep popping in my head whenever I witness blue skies and nature. It makes me cherish those moments that I used to take for granted.

    1. Kal

      June 3, 2020 at 6:16 PM

      Thank you so much for your comment, Riza! THAT QUOTE IS SO GOOD! I legit keep thinking about it whenever I step outside and think about how lucky we are, and I am so glad you also enjoyed Want!

  4. Destiny @ Howling Libraries

    May 29, 2020 at 6:04 AM

    Lovely review! I’m glad you liked both books overall. I’m looking forward to reading them, but honestly, I wish so badly that I had read them last year as I originally planned to. There’s no way I would be in the right head-space to pick the duology up in current events, and I worry that it may be a long, long time before that changes. Ah, well — at least I know I have an exciting series waiting for me when I’m ready!

    1. Kal

      June 3, 2020 at 6:17 PM

      Thank you Destiny, and I feel you on wishing I read them last year when I initially intended to because it is a Time to read a book like this during a pandemic. I hope you’ll be able to pick it up sooner rather than later when you’re in a good mindset for it!

  5. Marie @ Drizzle & Hurricane Books

    June 9, 2020 at 2:24 AM

    This is a wonderful review, Kal, thank you so much for sharing! <3 I've been so curious about WANT for a little while, now, and it sounds fascinating and terrifying all at once. I know it's a book I won't be able to be in the right mindset for for a long, long time, but I'm definitely keeping it on my radar <3

    1. Kal

      September 19, 2020 at 8:31 PM

      Thank you for reading, Marie! I know what you mean, I wish I had read this duology… before 2020, it was a LOT amidst the pandemic stuff. I do recommend the books when/if you’re ever in the mindset for them. <3

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