11 September 2015

Proxy by Alex London

When I put down Alex London’s PROXY, my first thought was:

Why isn’t this a bigger deal?

It’s a brilliant dystopian story, unique in its execution, with dual protagonists who are compelling and brilliantly written, and it kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time.

Not an easy feat.

And then there’s the fact that Syd, one of the two protagonists, is gay, and that the book handles it brilliantly: it’s a necessary, integral part of who he is, but it never defines him or his story. It makes his life harder, but it’s not what drives his struggles.

What drives his struggles is this: Syd is a poor kid, an orphan, who was “rescued” by society (a society driven by capitalism at its most ruthless) as a baby and saddled with what amounts to a lifetime’s worth of debt. His debt was bought by the father of a spoiled, rich brat—Knox, the novel’s other protagonist—and thus Syd became Knox’s Proxy. Whenever Knox did something bad, rather than being punished, he had to watch Syd be punished instead.

Knox was a pretty naughty kid.

PROXY alternated between the two boys’ POVs, and it was clear from the start that Knox was insufferable, even unlikable—and yet so very compelling. Even though he was not likable, there were little glimmers of who Knox might have been with a better environment, the seeds of empathy that might have blossomed in other circumstances. Syd, on the other hand, was downtrodden but resourceful, likable from the start, even though his life was pretty shitty.

When Knox accidentally kills someone in a brash show of youthful stupidity, Syd is saddled with the punishment: being branded and then sent to a work camp for essentially the rest of his life. Syd excapes, though, and a chance meeting with Knox sends them both searching for a way to escape: Knox from his overbearing, manipulative father, and Syd from his debts and the soldiers of bureaucracy who will stop at nothing to see him dead.

PROXY is filled with twists and turns and betrayals, and while these are the bread and butter of any dystopian tale, PROXY managed to surprise me at every turn, because each betrayal came from an unexpected source, and the characters I identified as most-likely to betray Syd or Knox ended up being the truest allies.

The ending surprised me even more. Watching Knox and Syd grow and change was so rewarding, and then when things came to their inevitable climax: wow.

I hope more people read PROXY. Meanwhile, I can’t wait to read the sequel, GUARDIAN.