“The Fractured Prism” offers a complex account of a futuristic and dystopian, socialist America through the eyes of 21-year-old Ivan 181375.
2018 alumnus Brendan Noble’s recently self-published book is set 99 years after the Third American Civil War. In this fictional world, a third civil war destroyed an American monarchy and divided the People’s Democratic Republic of Northern Mississippi into color-coded factions. These factions are determined by the “Prism Test.”
“In theory, the Prism Test was meant to determine how ‘beneficial to the collective’ you were through a series of physical, oral, and written examinations. After you took the test on your sixteenth birthday, you were filtered into one of six colored tiers based on your results,” Ivan explains in the book.
Each citizen must wear properly-colored tag earrings as a way of distinguishing status. The lowest ranking members of society are “Red Tags,” government slaves. In increasing order of rank, there are Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Purple Tags as well. The “Whites” are royals and do not wear any tags.
Red Tag Ivan, though a slave to the government, is also a lieutenant in the rebel Militia, acting under the codename “Coyote.” But Ivan’s life shifts dramatically after he saves the life of Princess Julia Hughes and in return is hired as her personal bodyguard, much to the dismay of her royalist father, King Hughes.
What starts as the two exchanging flirtatious smiles and subtle laughter turns into a budding, yet forbidden, romance.
Paying tribute to his time at Hillsdale, Noble even adds a reference to Aristotle in the early episodes of Ivan and Julia’s flirting.
“[Julia] giggled. ‘I thought you were supposed to be some backwater rebel kid, not Aristotle,’” Noble writes.
Because of his loyalty to both the rebels and royalty, Ivan fears one day he will have to choose “between [his] two loyalties.” Julia begs Ivan to give up his role as Coyote, but Ivan cannot bring himself to abandon the Militia. This conflict of purposes comes to a head in one of Ivan’s nightmares in which he watches helplessly as Coyote kills Julia, and Ivan finally realizes that he cannot keep living two lives.
Throughout the novel, Noble also develops Ivan’s negative attitude toward killing to show that though he is a rebel, he still has a conscience: unlike his fellow Militia members, Ivan does not take pride in killing people. This theme is present in various fighting scenes where Ivan has the opportunity to kill an attacker, but chooses not to.
The Militia’s belief that it is working to change a corrupt a system is upheld throughout the book as a worthy cause. Ivan reflects: “Each of us was ready to die for what we believed in so that this terrible world could change… we were making the sacrifice for the greater good, or at least, I hoped we were.”
Through her relationship with Ivan, Noble also holds up Julia as a virtuous character who uses her status to defend universal principles about humanity and truth. She is willing to jeopardize her reputation to preserve her relationship with Ivan and to call for political reform.
Unlike the other royals, Julia recognizes the injustices that the Secret Police of the United People’s Front commit against Red, Orange, and Yellow Tags in this corrupt society, and responds with apparent universalism.
“Everyone is so fake. I hate it,” she says. “The world seems to care more about status than who we are. So many people don’t seem to get that we’re not all that different, you know? White, Purple, Red, whatever. We’re not that different.”
Noble addresses current social issues throughout the novel, such as the problem of hidden sexual assault and the resulting #MeToo movement, which appears when Ivan confronts a rapist.
“At the very least, I could deliver a sliver of justice to the cruel unjust world that we lived in. Not just for Alexandria, but for all the women who felt helpless and abandoned after attacks like that,” Ivan thinks to himself. “The law had failed. I gave it a push.”
Noble even briefly addresses social media and the news media through Julia’s observations that “There’s so much ignorance, reinforced by the media.”
In addition to these social issues, Noble also emphasizes the importance of living a temperate and modest lifestyle.
During a party, Ivan observes, “the guests became drunker and drunker, filling the air with senseless noise, the smell of fruity liquor, and heavy cigar smoke. Julia meandered through the crowd, sipping on her one cocktail while others drunk themselves into oblivion. Smart.”
Although some of the descriptions and dialogue feel less natural, most of the characters Noble created for his debut novel are ones readers can sympathize with. Unpredictable actions from some characters throughout the novel keep the reader interested. While some scenes seem perhaps over-dramatized, the overall structure is well-paced: Noble offers a nice balance between scenes packed with dialogue, where the reader learns important information, and action scenes which deliver suspense and excitement.
As only the first book in his series the Prism Files, Noble ends the story in chaos, leaving the reader to wonder about the future awaiting this fragile society.