If you have not yet read Uglies and have no desire to be spoiled on a major plot point of the novel, please stop reading at the end of this paragraph. You can safely assume that I think that Uglies is a delightful novel and is chock full of awesome shiny bits. It is. You should drop everything and go read it right now. Afterwords, please return right here and read the rest of the review to find out if you should read Pretties, too. (You should). This is the part where you should stop reading the review if you haven’t read Uglies. The first sentence of the next paragraph is a rather major spoiler for Uglies but is also essential to the story of Pretties.
At the end of Uglies (I warned you)...
At the end of Uglies Tally Youngblood made the decision to return to Prettytown to be made Pretty. She knows that doing so will subject her to a surgery to change her overall physical appearance, but that it will also damage her brain. Reversable brain lesions are somehow caused by the surgery to ensure that the Pretties stay fairly docile, unthinking, and unquestioning. Tally made this decision so that she could later test an experimental cure for the lesions. The only ethical way to test the cure was to have an ugly agree before she is made pretty, because after the surgery, Tally won’t remember.
So, Pretties starts out with Tally as a Pretty. She is vapid and uncaring and engages in all the Pretty fun that occurs in New Prettytown. The last time we saw her, she had a working brain and now she’s just like the rest of the Pretties. Pretties is a very different novel than Uglies was. Up until the very last pages of Uglies, this is not what I expected from the second novel, but now it is the only possible way to tell the story given how Uglies ended.
The book starts out interesting, but annoying. The Pretties would have gotten on my nerves anyway. They are the personification of the spoiled rich children of Hollywood (or, just spoiled rich children). They don’t care about anything but themselves and maintaining their status, and they behave accordingly. Granted, in New Prettytown, this is completely appropriate for who and what they are, but I still dislike them.
Scott Westerfeld does something very interesting with Pretties. Tally Youngblood was already something of an annoying protagonist (aka, a seemingly realistic teenager in an unreal world). Now he ratchets up the annoyance by making her Pretty. This should be enough to kill the book / series for me, but it isn’t. Westerfeld’s storytelling is just so damn good that with each page I want to know more. I want more. Not necessarily of Tally, but just of the whole experience, the world of Uglies and Pretties.
What we know and what we expect is that at some point Tally will receive the note explaining why she is Pretty and what it means and what the cure is. This has to happen and it does. We know a central conflict will be Tally’s decision on whether or not to remain Pretty and also dealing with her new identity as a Pretty and how this will affect how she views the Uglies from her past. This is a central conflict of the novel, but Westerfeld also expands the world in ways I will not describe so as not to take away the sense of discovery that still pervades this, the second novel in a four book trilogy (yes, you read that right).
Where Scott Westerfeld reset the story with the ending of Uglies, he does the same thing in a different way with the ending of Pretties. This is another ending I did not expect at all. Perhaps the ending was inevitable, but it was not until the book was almost over that I saw it clearly.
The real review here is that if someone liked Uglies, they can expect more of the same competence in storytelling from Scott Westerfeld. Pretties isn’t going to change anyone’s mind who did or did not like Uglies. That said, Pretties is well worth reading. Westerfeld is telling a damn good story here and he deserves all the audience he can get (and that’s fairly large).
It’s good stuff.