Belligerent by B.N. Mauldin
In a dystopian future the populace is segregated into castes. Belligerents, the lowest of status, are comprised of criminals and outcasts. Content as a faceless Commoner, Ryan has made a life for himself on the streets as a car thief. While the work isn’t the most noble, he’s known as one of the best despite his young age.
Ryan’s skills catch the eye of a flagrant Owner, bent on winning the virtual competition: Vicara. Newly branded as a Belligerent, Ryan struggles for freedom and acceptance at an academy specialized in training teams for Vicara. Ryan’s place on the team is shaky as he learns the truth and tragedy behind the person he replaces.
Join the Belligerents as we get our first look into the world of Vicara!
One of my personal favorite premises in this book is the fact that anyone who is caught committing a crime become a Belligerent and lives out the rest of his or her life a either a servant, a labor worker, an entertainer, or a modern day gladiator. Of course, committing a crime isn't nearly the same thing as getting caught committing a crime, but talk about a motivator to keep the public in line! Do something illegal and you get a band strapped around your wrist that will inject a sedative into your bloodstream the moment you try to resist.
Not only does becoming a Belligerent mean that you practically forfeit all control over your own life, but you have to give it to someone else. You are now property of an Owner that has every power to make you do whatever they want. That's where Ryan ends up after he tries to steal the car of a wealthy Owner who's determined to have his team win the Vicara games for reasons that are never fully clear to us. All we know is that Shifter, the man that's now calling the shots of his life, saw something in Ryan that he needed and decided to take it.
I liked how you could see the different opinions people had of the Belligerents, and how they changed with time. When Ryan was younger, he thought it would be the coolest thing ever to be able to compete in the Vicara Games, but now all he wants to do is get out of them because he sees Belligerents for what they really are: slaves. Sure, a few of them may gain the status of wealthy celebrities every year, but up until that point, their freedom is the very last thing they have control over.
Shifter's team is probably the best thing about Belligerent. Meeting them way by far my favorite part of the novel, and they are always the easiest characters for me to identify. They're all so unique and obviously became Belligerents in different manners, yet their differences are probably the very reason they work so well together. They all need each other in some way, and I love the family dynamic that B.N. Mauldin creates with them.
My one criticism for this book lies with the ending. Cliffhangers, man. Cliffhangers. Belligerent is obviously supposed to be part of a series, but what a place to end! Do you think you could have left me with even more to wonder about?