The Serpent Underneath, a Brilliantly Nuanced Dystopian Thriller by Julie A. Fragoules

The Bottom Line: Fans of Margaret Atwood and Suzanne Collins will relish this under-the-radar dystopian thriller featuring a fascinating post-apocalyptic America and an enigmatic anti-hero. 

In a world devastated by socio-economic collapse, survival in America is a daily struggle. Eighteen-year-old Haven Segreti, recruited from her family’s isolated compound, is forced to serve as a member of a government “pack” – a unit of elite teens trained to serve the New Republic. She enjoys privileges forbidden from the masses, but still finds herself torn between conformity and rebellion, loyalty and betrayal.

Haven’s mentor, 36-year-old Adrien Damaso, is the protégé of the President of the Ruling Council and has quickly risen through the ranks of the new order. But his intentions are far more sinister than anyone realizes. Adrien enforces compliance, but he’s also a manipulator, murderer and closeted revolutionary. 

In Adrien, author Julie A. Fragoules has created a brilliantly nuanced character (“a psychopath with a soft spot”). Is he an anti-hero, a villain, or both? Are his principles noble?  Readers can look forward to pondering that question throughout.  Adrien is clearly cruel, yet capable of spouting inspiring political rhetoric that feels timely even within the context of a dystopian world: “I have, to the contrary and at great personal risk, encouraged you to think independently. So, let us discard the standard rhetoric. Our nation claims fairness, equality and collective responsibility as its foundation. In contrast, the U.S. venerated individual liberty and personal responsibility.” 

While the world Fragoules builds within the New Republic may seem like comfort food for fans of dystopian fiction, it’s also notably original. An example is the preciousness and rarity of historical knowledge (history is deemed to be not “socially relevant”) which is expertly revealed early on and pays off several times throughout the story. Thoughtful touches like this separate this well-crafted story from disposable dystopian fiction, and readers who dive in will be rewarded with a rich tapestry of ideas, character development and compelling character arcs.

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