Book Review: The Test by Sylvain Neuvel

The Test by Sylvain Neuvel

Rating:  ★★★★

Sylvain Neuvel is one of those authors I’ve had on my TBR for way too long.  His work sounds interesting.  I only ever see glowing reviews from my bookish friends.  But I’ve had a hard time simply committing.  I think it’s because Themis Files is a trilogy?  I did the same thing with Ann Leckie and Jeff VanderMeer.  I waited for them to release a standalone before I went back and read their trilogies, so I guess this is a common issue for me.

When I saw the description for The Test, which I’ve very purposefully left out here, I knew this was something I needed to read.  Here’s all the blurb I’m including because to spoil anything about The Test is wrong: Idir is from Iran and he takes the British citizenship test.

I realize that doesn’t sound exciting, but what attracted me to it was the possibility for discussion of immigration and all the things that are wrong with modern immigration laws.  While the book is set in England, I felt it was a theme that I could relate easily to the U.S. (you know, minus discussions of The Wall, sigh).

I’m happy to say it didn’t disappoint and started very much how I expected.  Idir is asked a lot of questions that the average British citizen doesn’t know.

Question 4: King Richard III of the House of York was killed in the Battle of Bosworth Field in what year?…I have a feeling only the people taking this test know the answer to that question. What could anyone possibly do with that information?

But Neuvel takes it one step further, and discusses the racism, the prejudice Idir experiences as a Muslim and Iranian.  How people can look at the color of a person’s skin and just assume they know everything about them.

We have been asked why we hate freedom, told to go back to the desert many times—I tell them I hear Dasht-e Kavir is breathtaking but I have never been. It is true—but not once has anyone asked me about famous battles of the fifteenth century. Maybe I should bring it up.

Idir’s resilience is admirable, and his character is immediately endeared to the reader because despite the fact that he takes it all in stride, even has a sense of humor about it, the truth is he shouldn’t have to put up with it at all.

From the very first chapter, you care what happens to him.  This is a short book, only 112 pages, and can be read in about two hours.  You want to see him succeed. So it’s saying a lot that you wanted to see him win after only one chapter.

Anyway, the book was very well written and the premise sucks you in right away with several unexpected turns, and I had a hard time putting the book down.  If it had not been a work day, I’d have read it all in one sitting.  Every chapter brought in some new element that had me on the edge of my seat.  The stakes are high, and the consequences far reaching.

I only deducted a star because of the ending.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s the ending that fit.  It’s the ending it should have, objectively speaking.  Subjectively, it isn’t the ending I wanted.  Everything else about this is a 5 star read and I’d encourage everyone to take a couple hours out of their day and read it.

There is a lesson to be learned here. We are all more alike than we think.


There is some potential trigger content here, so if you’d like to know what it is, please mention it in the comments below.  I wanted to avoid spoilers but I don’t want anyone to be caused unnecessary hurt by picking up the book either.

The Test can be found on GoodReads here, or purchased on Amazon here.