Review | The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

summer prince cover


In a future where living past 150 is guaranteed, the city of Palmares Tres is reknowned for it’s art and culture, ruled by all by the council of Aunties and lead by their Queen. Who chooses the Queen? Why, the Summer King—an elected figure who is celevrated through the summer, and then sacrificed after choosing the next queen.

Young June Costa is an aspiring artist in the city, and hopes that the next Summer King will be Enki, a handsome artist from the lowest caste of Palmares Tres. After Enki is crowned, June begins to create art installations that are both daring and rebellious. Thier work brings the attention


Here’s the deal. If you have even a remote chance of enjoying this book, you’re going to have to accept the following facts about this dystopia:

  • People live over the age of 200
  • People have the option of modifying their bodies or even uploading their consiousness to a server with the help of tech
  • People are very open about their sexuality, especially about who and how many people they sleep with.
  • The political system is a firmly entrenched matriarchy that is elected by the archaic sacrifice of a human male.

If you can take that, proceed.

DO NOT PROCEED. This book did not make me feel anything. No excitement because the plot was loose and incredinly slow. No sympathy or empathy because the characters were unrelatable. No awe because the world building was so flat. No thoughtfulness because the minute the story started approaching a difficult question, it backtracked to how beautiful the boys were.

But let’s break this down.

Missing emotion #1: excitement. I love sci-fi/dystopian because of the action, the political struggle, the way that the utopia you’re shown and the technology you’re handed comes around to bite the protagonist in the ass.

The Summer Prince seriously lacked any sort of cohesive plot. I mean, yes, Enki is going to die at the end.

So…end of story? I can see how a story can be made by showing how a short life is still a meaningful one. And I think Johnson tries to do that. But the concept of Enki’s death is brushed over  until the final third. And by then, when the characters finally took action, it felt delayed and pointless.

Missing emotion #2: empathy/sympathy. Character driven story telling is a must for me. I need to connect to the characters. I need to understand them.

I did not care about a single person in this book. Not our protagonist June, not Gil, or Ueda, or even the charming Enki. This is mostly because Johnson takes a “tell, don’t show” approach to her characterization. June catalogues people’s behaviours for the reader, and then very few efforts are made to make the characters emulate them. Or when they did, they were downright annoying.

Missing emotion #3: awe. Johnson has the perfect setting to simply drown the reader with imagery world building.

Instead, I was confused. It took the book a long time to explain the verde and the pyramid structure, and I’m still confused as to the city’s landscape. Similarly, the technology available and societal norms were difficult to grasp due to lack of description and interaction. It took me so long to understand that tech was under certain restrictions.

I think the hardest thing for my brain to grab onto was the idea that such an advanced society would (1) ban the use of technology and (2) rely on an archaic and barbaric ritual to maintain order. The idea was so…incongruous it never made sense to me.

Missing emotion #4: thoughtfulness. When the concept of technophile and isolationist came up, I was thrilled. Finally some sort of meaningful debate was making its way into the story. I thought the same when Enki’s skin colour was brought up. And when June talked about art. Or Ueda with Japan’s digital tech. But whenever something came up, it was never fully explored.

Final Verdict

Final recommendation: Don’t Bother. With a lot of potential but ultimately lacking in plot, characterization, world building, discussion, and the ability to evoke any sort of emotion in the reader, The Summer Prince should be left on the shelf. There’s better dystopia and sci-fi out there.


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