Book Review: Melophobia – James Morris

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Title: Melophobia (2015)
Author: James Morris
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopia
Extent: 265 pages
Rating: ★★★★☆

Goodreads Description

The time—now; the place—America, but in a world where the government controls all forms of art and creativity. Any music sowing the seeds of anarchy is banned—destroyed if found—its creators and listeners harshly punished.

Merrin Pierce works as an undercover Patrol officer assigned to apprehend a fugitive musician who threatens the safe fabric of society, only to confront everything she thought to be true – her values, upbringing, job, and future.

Can love survive in a world without music?

Publisher’s Weekly called it “a convincing alternative history novel and…an accomplished coming-of-age love story that asks big questions about freedom and expressiveness in the face of oppression”.

Review

A world without music! I grew up playing two different instruments, so this one really struck a chord—pardon the pun—with me. When Patrol officer Merrin Pierce is tasked to go undercover to find The Source and stop him from illegally creating and sharing music with the public, her world gets turned upside-down. Truths are revealed. Secrets are uncovered. Past hurts resurface.

There is quite a bit of world-building in Melophobia, and I’m pleased to report that it’s laid out in a natural, engaging manner. There’s hardly any info-dump, and those who love and/or are familiar with music will enjoy the references to various bands or singers around the globe. This is a world where the Beatles are imprisoned, where only government-created music is allowed.

The characters are lively and interesting, with their own values and agendas that occasionally go against each other. Merrin’s father Tarquin is the Minister of Broadcast Standards, which makes for an interesting conflict when Merrin finds herself drawn deeper and deeper into the world of music.

Rowan Sol, Tarquin’s subordinate, is a mild-mannered man whose job is to create government-sanctioned music for the public. Meanwhile there’s also Anders, Merrin’s ex-boyfriend and her current Patrol partner, who is still interested in Merrin and gets torn between his loyalty to her and his loyalty to the government. All these characters have motivations on their own, and it was interesting to see how they all interplay in Melophobia.

While Melophobia is told from various characters’ third-person point-of-view, this one is definitely Merrin’s story. I loved reading about her struggle between her job as a Patrol officer and her interest in music. When she started questioning everything she knew about herself and her world and then made decisions based on her growth, I cheered. As a character, Merrin is definitely pliable to change, and this made it easy for me to root for her.

There is some romance in this story, but to avoid spoiling anything, I’d just say this: I really like her love interest as a character, but I don’t really believe in their relationship as a whole. Everything just developed too easily, too unnaturally for my liking—though I must say that this didn’t really deter my enjoyment of the book, it just simply wasn’t something I particularly loved.

One thing that I wish I could see more of is the world-building. I would have loved to see how society came to this idea that music should be banned, and how the rules were first set in place. I can’t think of any way to realistically remove music from society, so I found this aspect of the story lacking. I’m good at suspending disbelief, though, so it didn’t necessarily affect my reading experience that much.

The other major thing I didn’t really appreciate about Melophobia is the editing. Several times in the prose, I encountered ampersands instead of the word ‘and’. Other people might not pick up on it or be as nitpicky, but my eyes are somewhat trained to look out for mistakes, so these things really stood out to me and made me feel like the book is less than professionally polished.

Overall, Melophobia was a nice surprise and definitely a unique take on the typical dystopia. The ending was surprising and I think left some room for a sequel. Maybe we’ll see more of Merrin?

*** I received a copy of Melophobia from the author in exchange for a honest review. This in no way swayed my opinion of the book.

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