Pages: 336 (paperback)
Published: March 2011
Recommended for: readers who enjoy both futuristic and historical fiction, as well as exciting adventure stories
THERE'S HOPE FOR THE FUTURE,
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE PAST?
It’s the 24th century and humans, with the help of artificial intelligences (A.I.s) 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. But not everything goes to plan.
In this first of a trilogy, we meet three spoiled teens in the year 2347. Hansum almost 17, is good looking and athletic. Shamira, 15, is sassy, independent and an artistic genius. Lincoln, 14, is the smart-aleck. But you don’t have to scratch too far beneath the surface to find his insecurities.
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. It’s hardly the ideal environment to fall in love – but that’s exactly what happens. In an attempt to survive, the trio risks introducing technology from the future. It could save them – or it could change history.
The world-building in this novel is fantastic. We are treated to a glimpse of a near-perfect society, hundreds of years into the future: a world where AIs (sleek robot creatures of various sizes who are endearing as they are logical and helpful) have helped saved humanity. Lory Kaufman's setting is post-dystopian-- we learn that most of the world's population died out circa the 22nd century. The mixture of the long-ago past and the faraway future really worked for The Lens and the Looker-- it was as fascinating to muse about having your own personal AI as it was to imagine what it might be like to visit a history camp.
Our three teen protagonists are "hardcases"-- mischievous kids who have broken the rules of their strict if sheltering society-- but none of them could be categorized under today's definition of a juvenile delinquent. The trio are sent to a hardcore history camp (as opposed to the Renaissance Faire-like recreational ones which are common in their world) in order to learn to appreciate the ease and happiness of their lives. The camp's particular setting is Fair Verona, Italy, where the stage of Romeo and Juliet was once set. But Italy in the mid-fourteenth century was the stage for another infamous historical happening... the Black Death. It's one heck of a tough history camp indeed that Hansum, Lincoln, and Shamira have landed themselves in, but even as they take up the role of apprentices to a craftsmen and his wife, Hansum is convinced he has the nuts and bolts of the camp's enactors (players) figured out. With the help of a holographic "genie", he and the others scheme to unravel the storyline-- until they cross paths with a time traveler and wind up in real-life Verona, in the year 1347, exactly a thousand years ago. Verona is a deadly place far removed from anything these slightly spoiled and arrogant, if resourceful, teens have ever encountered.
I really enjoyed the way the characters, particularly Hansum, come into their own, and how they manage to band together and even triumph after being suddenly immersed into a brutal, medieval world. Verona was rich with details, though the one thing I never really understood was how three English-speaking teens could perfectly understand fourteenth-century Italian. Perhaps it was part of the magic, or maybe the education system is just re-vamped and a million times better in the future! I could certainly believe that-- in a world so full of information, perhaps people three hundred years from now will measure to the intellects of people today as we measure to Cro-Magnons. It was also interesting to get an in-depth look at lens-making early on in the book. The descriptions of the process were a bit extensive in the book, but I can hardly complain myself-- were it not for contact lenses, I doubt I could see to read or drive. There is also a romance between Hansum and and the daughter of his master in Verona, Guilietta, which is sweet and genuine. The ending has left me wanting the next book in the trilogy, the Bronze and the Brimstone.
The most unique aspect of the book, and the one which intrigued me the most, was the history camps. I'm declaring my history nerd-ness here, but I can imagine nothing better than a summer camp where everyone acted out the Renaissance or Ancient Egypt. (Though I can't imagine the daily ceremonies of the latter would be too popular among modern parents ;) And it's all too true what they say: those who ignore history are doomed to make its mistakes again. That's a big theme of the Lens and the Looker, but the read is too entertaining to linger long over the technicalities, as I am soo apt to do: this is a book where it's worth it to just enjoy the ride.
Cover: 2/5 (really not impressed by it)
Plot: 5/5Overall Rating: 4.5/5