The Virtue Season by L.M. Nathan

The Virtue Season – at a glance

The School Reading Lists’ five word review: Gripping, dark, romantic, dramatic, painful.
YA book title: The Virtue Season.
YA author: L.M. Nathan.
Genre: Dystopian romance.
Published by: Scholastic.
ISBN: 9780702330926.
Recommended for children aged: 14+ year-olds.
First published: Paperback July 2024.
This children’s book is ideal for: Fans of Bridgerton and Hunger Games.

The Virtue Season by L.M. Nathan

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Our review:

The world didn’t end all at once but drip by drip…one long tide of terror.

In the aftermath of a series of devasting global floods, the Calde Valley Council was established to impose order on a decimated population. To ensure the continuance of the human race, the Council now strictly control reproduction, with any perceived flaws severely punished.

Only the healthy must be allowed to breed. Not for love, not out of free will, purely to cleanse the world of defects.

Eighteen-year-old Manon Pawlak is a debutant at The Virtue Season, a year-long, highly regimented process that will match her to a genetically compatible life partner. She always planned to attend the lavish parties and social outings with her best friend Agatha, but her friend’s seizures have led her to be “decommissioned” and branded with a painful scar to ensure no unsanctioned matches.

Her friend’s fate is a vivid reminder of what is at stake if Manon disobeys the Council’s orders. As she struggles to navigate the complicated social etiquette of the Virtue Season, Manon finds herself attracting the attention of two fellow debutants. There’s easy-going Tomie who she has daydreamed about uniting with for years but who hides a violent streak and caring Wick who is a keeping a dangerous secret about Manon’s own family.

I don’t fully understand the dread the councillors provoke in me, only that it is somehow part of me, that not trusting them is as much who I am as my arms or legs, like fear has become another limb.

As the season draws to a close with no sanctioned match in sight, Manon realises that she must fight for the freedom to love who she chooses, even if it means sacrificing everything she holds dear.

The Virtue Season by L.M. Nathan banner 1

The Virtue Season is an exciting debut novel from author L.M. Martin, who draws on her home in rural Lancashire for the book’s gothic setting. Marketed as “Bridgerton meets the Hunger Games”, there are also elements of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, with the focus on ensuring “flawless” offspring. The all-knowing Council inspire comparisons to George Orwell’s 1984, with the spectre of constant surveillance adding a disturbingly realistic twist to the match-making.

As befits its dystopia genre, The Virtue Season is not a particularly cheerful read. Manon’s life is hard and full of fear. But her loyalty, resilience and friendship with Agatha give welcome moments of light amid the struggle. The characters are well-developed and the fast-paced plot will immediately grab the reader’s attention. The ending is exhilarating and cries out for a sequel.

The book covers important and highly relevant themes, including the nature of authority and a woman’s right to choose. A large-scale publicity campaign around the book is planned for the Summer, with BookTok promotion and festival events.

Be aware that The Virtue Season deals with some heavy content, including eugenics, sexual control and suicide. It is therefore more suited to a mature readership.

The Virtue Season is an engrossing, powerful tale that will appeal to fans of Kalynn Bayron’s Cinderella is Dead and Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy.

Many thanks to Scholastic for the review copy.

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If you like The Virtue Season by L.M. Nathan you might also like: our reviews of Thieves’ Gambit by Kayvion Lewis, Where Sleeping Girls Lie by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé, When Shadows Fall by Sita Brahmachari and The Isles of the Gods by Amie Kaufman.

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About Melanie Dillon

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Melanie has a Master’s degree in Information and Library Management; a Post Graduate Certificate in Children’s Literature focusing on the Reading Agency’s Reading Well scheme & LGBT YA fiction, and extensive experience working in school and public libraries. Linkedin | Reviews by Melanie Dillon