Book Review: Melophobia by James Morris

A unique dystopian story that captures the beauty of music.

4/5 stars

cover melophobia


The time–now; the place–America, but in a world where the government controls all forms of art and creativity. Any music sowing seeds of anarchy is banned–destroyed if found–its creators and listeners harshly punished.

Merrin Pierce works as an undercover Patrol officer assigned to apprehend a man who threatens the safe fabric of society, only to confront everything she thought to be true–her values, upbringing, job and future.

My Review

*I was given a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my review.*

I was intrigued by the premise of this book: a world without music—how would that work? The answer, in true dystopian fashion, is that it doesn’t.

I was simultaneously pleased by and frustrated with the world building. Essentially, a civil war broke out in the 1970s between anarchist music lovers and the established government, leading to the War on Moral Decay. The government won the War, establishing a strict, almost Puritanical world where music is illegal and any strong emotion is seen as the beginning of anarchy. Raised in this society, the protagonist, Merrin, fiercely hates and fears music.

It is the kind of premise you just have to accept. It was believable to me that Merrin would hate music if she had been raised on a diet of anti-music propaganda—but that didn’t stop me from countering all of her anti-music statements in the beginning of the book. As a member of modern society, all of the arguments against music were clearly authoritarian propaganda, and I had to remind myself that Merrin’s emotions were logical for someone in her position.

Other than that, I was fairly happy with the world-building. We don’t learn everything about how music was eradicated or the specifics of what else is illegal in their society, but I never felt like that lack of information created plot holes. One thing I really appreciated was how the world-building continued throughout the story; even in the later chapters, I was still learning more details of the world, which felt natural.

Merrin was an interesting protagonist. She starts off the book your typical hard-ass female character, focused on her job, fueled by a deep inner rage against music. Watching her character develop was fascinating as she transitioned into a woman, unsure of her place in the world, torn between competing loyalties, and questioning the society she had been raised to trust. The fact that her father was a high-ranking government official only added to the tension, creating a realistic moral battle within Merrin.

The rest of the characters in the book held there own. There’s Anders, her ex-bf and current partner, pining for Merrin and loyal to the Patrol. He was a fairly frustrating character, but that was the point, and I appreciated that we got to see different layers of his personality. Then there are the musicians that Merrin meets as she investigates. These characters were the most fun to read about, mainly because they actually embraced having emotions, unlike the rest of the society.

And then there’s the romance. Merrin’s assignment is to go undercover and find the Source, a musician who has been creating and distributing music. Though the set-up isn’t exactly original, their romance had a unique realism. I loved watching Merrin’s affection for the Source develop, even in the face of all her other values. I appreciated that Merrin didn’t drop all of her distrust of music as soon as she met the Source; even when their relationship was getting serious, she still had her reserves. Merrin’s inner conflicts felt real, and it wasn’t just romance that finally made her realize the problems in her society, but a slew of other incidents.

All in all, Melophobia is an interesting read, but it didn’t blow me away. Having not really listened to the music that the book was rooted in, I feel like I was missing some of the emotional significance. Also, the writing bothered me occasionally. It had a habit of switching POV without warning and a tendency to “tell” instead of “show” emotions.

The beginning dragged a bit; it took me a while to get into the story. Once the halfway point it, though, I was hooked. There were a few “oh my god” moments, and I loved how the plot affected every single character, not just Merrin. The climax of the book literally broke my heart and effortlessly set up a second book.

I’d recommend this book to music fans, especially rock-n-roll fans, who want an interesting NA dystopian with complex characters and a surprising ending.

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