Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Lens and the Looker by Lory S. Kaufman

Title: The Lens and the Looker
Author: Lory Kaufman
Series: The Verona Trilogy #1 (aka A History Camp novel)
Published: Mar. 16, 2011
Publisher: The Fiction Studio
Pages: 336 (paperback)
I received this book as part of the The Lens and the Looker blog tour, in exchange for an honest review.

It’s the 24th century and humans, with the help of artificial intelligences (A.I.s) have finally created the perfect post-dystopian society. To make equally perfect citizens for this world, the elders have created History Camps, full sized recreations of cities from Earth’s distant pasts. Here teens live the way their ancestors did, doing the same dirty jobs and experiencing the same degradations. History Camps teach youths not to repeat the mistakes that almost caused the planet to die. But not everything goes to plan.

In this first of a trilogy, we meet three spoiled teens in the year 2347. Hansum almost 17, is good looking and athletic. Shamira, 15, is sassy, independent and an artistic genius. Lincoln, 14, is the smart-aleck. But you don’t have to scratch too far beneath the surface to find his insecurities.

These three “hard cases” refuse the valuable lessons History Camps teach. But when they are kidnapped and taken back in time to 1347 Verona, Italy, they only have two choices; adapt to the harsh medieval ways or die. The dangers are many, their enemies are powerful, and safety is a long way away. It’s hardly the ideal environment to fall in love – but that’s exactly what happens. In an attempt to survive, the trio risks introducing technology from the future. It could save them – or it could change history
. --Goodreads


The Lens and the Looker is unique in the sense that it’s difficult to label as belonging to a single genre. On one hand, it’s sci-fi. You begin in the 24th century, where you spend a brief time learning just enough to know that all the kids in a three hundred million populated world are sent back in time as part of their education. Learn from hardships of the past to change the future and all that. But on the other hand, once the main characters are transported and trapped back in time, the book is just as much historical fiction as it is science fiction. Hansum and his friends are exposed to a world without plumbing, hearthcare, and easy transportation in 14th century Italy. The detail put into creating the past was by far the greatest strength of the book, and watching the characters mature to deal with the difficulties of that time period in order to survive was the most rewarding aspect of the plot. The historical fact blended well with the fantasy of the entire novel, and I felt like I was being given a focused lesson in history without actually having to attend class. I especially loved the detail put into explaining the art of lens making. You never see that kind of focus in YA fiction, and the craftsman in me loved it.

As far as action goes, there’s really not much of it. Instead, the book draws you in through the character relationships and everyday drama of life in the 14th century. There are no real villains, just characters in a position to act out of the need to survive (well, with the exception of one, but to say anymore would mean I'd spoil some stuff for you). But, to be honest, though I liked the characters of the book, I didn’t feel like they stood out. We’re not given much back story about our three heroes, and the chapters sort of bounce around from character to character as needed . It was difficult to seperate Hansum as the main character from a minor character like Ugilino when the emotions of all of the characters were sort of light and didn't go far beyond the surface level, even when dealing with big emotions like love and heartache. It was clear by the end of part one that this was very much a plot driven story. Hopefully we’ll get to know the other main characters (specifically Shamira--who was sort of pushed to the side after she was introduced) in the sequel.

So, if you’re looking for something a very different compared to the other dystopia/post apocalyptic novels out there or in the mood to read the equivalent of watching a History Channel special, I highly recommend you pick up The Lens and the Looker. It was an interesting way to start what looks like will be an awesome series, and I can guarantee that you’ll learn a thing or two as you read through it’s pages. I know I did, and I can't wait to read the sequel!