Set after the Seven Stages War that left the world devastated, The Testing begins by introducing us to Cia Vale on the day of her Graduation. Only sixteen years old, she has completed school and is now considered an adult, expected to pick an occupation and help toward rebuilding and revitalizing the area around her Colony. Her only hope to leave the Five Lakes Colony is to be picked for The Testing... but while she is intelligent and ambitious, no one from her Colony has been selected for The Testing in ten years. When an official appears the day after Graduation and announces that Cia and three others will be traveling to Tosu City to compete for the chance to attend University, Cia begins to realize that being picked may not have been such a good thing after all...
I really enjoyed this book. The author does a great job at making the majority of the characters likable, but as we find out later in the book, being likable doesn't always mean that the character is "good." What I found so interesting is that the author does a great job at showing how the fear of death as well as the competitive nature of the four tests can twist people and blur the lines of what is acceptable behavior. Cia stands out, however, since even in a competition where her life is on the line, Cia still tries to do what is best for the people around her, never knowingly sacrificing someone just to further herself.
In a post-apocalyptic book, especially one with a dystopian theme, I expect there to be layers upon layers of plots and conspiracies that the main character discovers over the course of the story, and this book doesn't fail to deliver. Nothing is straight forward, and even something that you think might be okay - such as getting medical treatment - is yet another test, with the goal to somehow narrow the prospective students from one hundred and eight down to twenty.
Reading the book, I'm still trying to figure out exactly what characteristics the testing officials are looking for. Is it knowledge, intelligence, charisma... or is it the ability to do what is necessary - not matter how wrong - to survive? Just when you think they're looking for teamwork, you realize that The Testing is designed to also divide teams and get everyone to work against each other, with sabotage accepted if not also rewarded.
While not perfect, this is a book that I can see myself reading over and over again, finding something new in each turn of the page, connecting plots and sub-plots that were foreshadowed but not made evident until later in the tale, and I can certainly looking forward to continuing this series.
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I just finished reading The Testing this evening (review coming tomorrow) so I decided to pick up The Testing Guide since it's listed as a prequel to the series. I'm glad that it was free, however, since it didn't actually provide any new material or answer any questions.
Set six years prior to the events in The Testing, this prequel tells the very short story of Cia's neither Zeen, and his disappointment at not being selected for testing. Though told from Zeen's POV and centered around his graduation, it's essentially a rehash of the events that will happen six years later at Cia's graduation. There are no need revelations, and minor details could have been included within two or three paragraphs maximum in The Testing.
Final opinion is that there really isn't a need for it, and you certainly won't lose out of you don't read it, but it's written well and is consistent with the story told in the first book of the series.