The Lens and the Looker (The Verona Trilogy, Book 1)
by Lory Kaufman
Release Date: March 16, 2011
2011 The Fiction Studio
Softcover Edition; 322 Pages
Genre: Dystopian / Historical Fiction
Source: Review Copy from Publisher
4 / 5 Stars
It's the 24th century and humans, with the help of artificial intelligences, 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.
In this novel, we meet three spoiled teens in the year 2347. 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. In an attempt to survive, the trio risks introducing technology from the future. It could save them - or it could change history.
I thought the concept of this trilogy was very intriguing and the idea of someone from a post-dystopian future going into the past in order to learn was an interesting idea. Three incredibly spoiled teens are sent to the most dire and strict of History Camps as a last resort and test their elders to the limit; however, before restitution could be made by the teenagers, all three are kidnapped and sent back to the real 1347 Verona and apprenticed to a lens maker.
All of a sudden, causing mischief isn't as important as it seemed, and now the three teenagers are tested to the limit as the need to survive in a world in which they have no familiarity becomes the most important thing. This is the part of the novel that fascinating me the most. As a history lover, I thought Mr. Kaufman did a remarkable job in bringing 1347 Verona to life and his vivid descriptions of life, clothing, food, housing, and other daily occurrences were rather fascinating. To the teenagers, who up to this point lived in a very pristing and sanitary world, the daily conditions they saw around them would have come as a huge shock. The descriptions of Ugilino using the chamber pot, the state of the food they had to eat, when Shamira cut herself for the first time and went into absolute hysterics, when Lincoln broke his tooth on a stone in the bread, and other such happenings, certainly were vivid and brought the world around them to life. I am impressed by the amount of research that went into the descriptions of the city and the daily life of its citizens. I definitely learned a lot about lens making and the telescope, objects I actually thought were developed around this time period. It's always nice when a novel can instruct as well as entertain.
Hansum, Shamira, and Lincoln definitely grew on me as the story developed. As I was first introduced to them, I did not really care for them at all, and thought they were pretty spoiled and selfish. As the story unfolded however, all three had their own challenges and lessons to learn and not all of them learned them at the same rate. Some were rather more stubborn about accepting their fate and working harder than others, and it was interesting watching the transformation of these characters' personalities and dedication and commitment to the family and to each other develop. There were things that made me wince in this novel and I feel sure I could not have accepted them with as much grace as these three teenagers.
I particularly liked the character Pan, their genie, who helps them negotiate the terrifying new world in which they find themselves. He is a fount of knowledge and is able to guide the teens skillfully and help them learn the language and the customs of this time period. I love the scenes in which Pan reprimands the teens for things that they do as they are not fourteenth century customs. And when the teens start introducing advanced technology into this world, they all fear the results and worry about the time line being changed or erased. But desperation sometimes allows for poor choices, and when one thing leads to another, the teenagers suddenly find themselves thrust into political twists and turns they would never have imagined. Pan, naturally, doesn't agree with what the teenagers are doing, but at the same times encourages them in their designs and in their presentations. I always felt like there was a foreshadowing aspect to Pan however, and I still worry that something is going to happen with him in future novels that doesn't portend good for our three teenagers. It's just little glimpses here and there, but it is what it is.
The Lens and the Looker was a quick, enjoyable read and I found myself engrossed in the descriptions of fourteenth century Verona. While the events built up quickly towards the end, I found there was little in the way of resolution, although events are certainly set up for a very entertaining and interesting second novel in this trilogy. I am looking forward to reading The Bronze and the Brimstone as I think Mr. Kaufman did a wonderful job creating a dystopian world with a fascinating historical twist.