I didn’t really know what to expect when I got this book. It seemed intriguing—a girl who takes care of words in a world where people can only speak 500 words. I definitely ended up with a book that got intriguing the more you turned the page.
The List by Patricia Forde
In the city of Ark, speech is constrained to five hundred sanctioned words. Speak outside the approved lexicon and face banishment. The exceptions are the Wordsmith and his apprentice Letta, the keepers and archivists of all language in their post-apocalyptic, neo-medieval world.
On the death of her master, Letta is suddenly promoted to Wordsmith, charged with collecting and saving words. But when she uncovers a sinister plan to suppress language and rob Ark’s citizens of their power of speech, she realizes that it’s up to her to save not only words, but culture itself.
Review: 4 butterflies
Letta seems to be very much a follower—she believes in John Noa and his vision, though she has a few doubts. It isn’t until she encounters someone perplexing and thrilling that her world starts to turn upside down. Her inner turmoil of contradicting thoughts is realistic because that’s exactly what a person would do when they’ve been taught something their whole life and then realized it was wrong. While Letta is a follower in a sense, she is also ready to step up to help if she sees something wrong happening.
The Desecrators—including Marlo—seemed more three-dimensional than anybody living in The Ark. While I understand this is because it needed to be more appealing (also because Letta needs to learn about them and she already knows about those within the Ark), it also took away from the novel because I could not really bring myself to care about their fates. I cringed more when a Desecrator died than when somebody in The Ark suffered.
Amelia is also really interesting. Towards the end I grew to like her, but then a sentence in the last chapter made me wonder if I should or if she would be the main antagonist if there is a sequel. (The ending was rather open so there could definitely be a sequel, though I’m not sure if there is).
My favorite part was learning about life before The Melting, with Letta’s parents and Benjamin and all of the events leading up to The Melting. I also really liked how the book described music and all forms of art—it makes sense that if John Noa banned art that people would have a stronger reaction to their first exposure to it.
This post-apocalyptic novel reminded me of both The Giver and 1984 because of the themes it was trying to convey. However, it also added elements of the dangers of climate change and how fear can make people do incredibly dramatic things (like eliminate most of the English language).
What perplexed me was this: does the author not understand that humans can create language? While limiting the English language to five-hundred words, you are probably also causing people to come up with new words to describe things they don’t know. While this may not be true in The Ark, where people are highly policed for speaking words not in The List, this would probably be what happened to the outcasts—or Desecrators, as they’re called in the book.
It’s clear that it hasn’t been too long since The Melting—after all, John Noa is still alive and there are people who remember the world pre-Melting. So my question is this: why can’t “Desecrators” form their own advanced community? It’s hinted at the end that there may be more civilizations around the world, but it’s something that really intrigued me throughout the novel. It really emphasizes how people can completely isolate themselves in fear, especially if a powerful voice is telling them to.
One last thing I really liked about this is that this novel seemed to avoid the clichéd romance that seems to be in a lot of post-apocalyptic fantasies and science fiction. I really appreciate that this was more of a coming-of-age story than a romance.
I’m definitely interested in the sequel if there is one, because there are so many questions left unanswered. I highly recommend this to anyone who likes dystopian fiction (I don’t know if I’d call this science fiction) and strong female protagonists who, despite their faults, end up being pretty badass.