My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Whenever I get the chance to read a post-apocalyptic Science Fiction novel, I am all in. Add in a gritty noir vibe reminiscent of a 1940’s detective novel and there’s absolutely no way I can say no.
We find ourselves in a future version of our world. I’m not sure where the exact setting is supposed to be, but I suspect Scotland or thereabouts. Knowledge of the location isn’t a requirement to enjoy the story, or at least it wasn’t for me.
And its a good story. Dark but compelling, with a plot that pulls you into turning page after page needing to know what happens next.
We alternate between two main characters, Henraek and Walleus. They both used to fight for the rebels and now work for a group, the Tathadann, who overtook the area years back. Henraek is a broken man, forced to work for the people he hates, after losing his wife and son to the war.
Walleus is a bit more complicated. He has secrets, dark secrets, that leave you guessing his true loyalties and motivations all the way to the end. More on him later.
I really liked how creative the story was, and how complex the characters were. I imagine in any place taken over by a regime that rules in ruthless and totalitarian ways, the day to day lives of those citizens would be anything but black and white. People are never all good or all bad, or at least, rarely. The author does a good job capturing the complexity of this struggle.
If you love a gritty, dark novel you will enjoy this book. I think if you like anything 1940’s detective noir, you will also really enjoy the narration.
I give the book 3 out of 5 stars.
This book was provided to me via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
**POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD! If you haven’t read this book yet, DO NOT READ FURTHER**
I gave this book only three stars, because while I was gripped by the story, it could have been stunning.
There were two pieces of the plot that I wish had been developed a bit more. The first is what really drew me in to the book. Memory theft.
Henraek’s job in the Tathadann is stealing memories from people. You can then insert these memories into various viewers and watch them. He’s given a list daily and he goes about his job trying not to think about what he’s actually doing. He must not feel too bad though, because he always take an extra vial to sell to the black market.
This is an interesting side plot. The people who buy memories on the black market and become addicted to them. These junkies are mentioned multiple times throughout the book, and one junkie in particular comes back again and again, but there isn’t any discovery over who he is or why he’s relevant. I think maybe he was just an example of how desperate and alone these people can become chasing lost memories, but this leads me to more questions not answered. Why do they become addicted to the memories? What memories are they chasing? How could anyone’s random memories lead to such addiction, especially people who want to relive memories of lost, loved ones? It wasn’t exactly clear to me and I would have LOVED to see this more developed.
Back to the memory theft. These memories are drained and the people are left as empty shells. Alive but gone. Which raised some questions. There isn’t really any mention of what happens to these shells after they’ve been robbed. We witness him engaging in this theft twice, and he simply places coal over their eyes, and leaves them. The coal is mentioned as important, a signal of something, but again, I have no idea what. Maybe it isn’t important, but it felt like a loose end to me.
The memories are stored by the Tathadann, but we don’t really see why, what they’re looking for, or even why specific people are targeted. I also would think if there was still a rebellious faction in this city, that the outrage of people hollowed out and stolen would cause more of an outrage than the book implied. There really is no mention of it, other than the disgust generated towards addicts. If the addicts themselves are so repulsive, shouldn’t the creators of the addiction also be reviled? ESPECIALLY if it left these shells of people all over the place?
This underdeveloped piece of plot is even more important because of Henraek’s girlfriend, Emeriann. Her husband was also killed in the last rebel battle. And we find Henraek stealing the memories of her dead husbands grandfather in the beginning. He then goes BACK and steals the fathers later on. He is conflicted about this, but takes them anyway. Fine, he’s doing his job, but what about Emeriann? She’s part of the new rebellion and expresses disgust over addicts, yet nothing is EVER mentioned about her in-laws or her new boyfriend’s role in creating these addicts? Or again, these shells of people left all over the city? I just didn’t buy it. She is willing to die for the rebel cause, yet loves a man who is responsible for so much that she hates?
The second piece of plot I wish was developed more was Walleus himself.
Walleus was the original traitor. He’s the one who we are led to believe gave the Tathadann the information they needed to take down the rebels. This information led to massive deaths, including the death of Henraek’s wife and son. I felt it was a stretch that Henraek continued to view Walleus as a friend. He knew of his betrayal, knew that he was forced into submission, and yet still continues to view the guy as his friend? Because they grew up together? I don’t buy it. I would have liked a more treacherous relationship with both of them scheming to undo the other. That would have felt more realistic to me.
The other issue with Walleus, is why he turned in the first place? We find out that he actually has Henraek’s son, and is raising him, telling the boy his parents are dead. His desire to keep the child as his own plays a major role in why he stays, but why turn in the first place? Other than belief that the rebellion was doomed and he needed to survive. Henraek himself, eludes to Walleus’ confusing nature, but the narration doesn’t really give us more depth in that regard.
We also learn that Walleus has a mutated son, born with deformities including scaled skin, flippers for hands and the inability to talk in more than clicks. I found it odd that mention of this defect or mutation wasn’t examined more. This seems like something major. Is this the only child like this? Where did it come from? Again, why don’t we see more mention of other characters with these issues?
There were other things about Walleus I didn’t like. He’s described as being fat, his large stomach is mentioned multiple times, in various ways. Yet this guy is also then described as being able to take out men younger, stronger and more in shape because he has field and fighting experience? Skills like that don’t just happen because you could once do them. And, yes, experience will work in your favor in any fight, but it doesn’t guarantee it.
Overall, I felt that as one of the two main protagonists, he needed development and consistency. I felt like the author was trying to make him more human, more relatable, more sympathetic. Instead, we was a confusing character.
My other issue, and it is mild, was the language. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a reader that frills at the presence of a curse word in a book. I think swearing, especially in a society like this, often needs to happen to make the characters and dialogue believable. My problem is that the swearing itself is what usually felt unbelievable.
Do you remember when you were young, and swearing was new? So you did it all the time? Or when you thought it would make you seem tough, or angry, or grownup? I do. And that’s how the swearing felt to me. New. Or, like it was added in because it should be there. Not because it naturally belonged. A few times it felt like it was there for pure shock value alone. A minor complaint, I know, but I consider myself a refined user of explicative words, and hate to see them mistreated in any way.
I will say, the strength of the plot made me overlook these complaints. I did roll my eyes a few times at repetitive phrases (I could never read the words ‘reptilian part of the brain’ again and be completely happy), but I continued to turn the pages. I genuinely wanted to know what happens next. There was tension and unsolved mystery. I love when authors add a bit of a Shakespearean twist of ‘information known too late’, and this was blended in towards the end.
In all, I enjoyed it, but it didn’t blow me away. Which is disappointing, because honestly, I feel like this book had major potential to be a show stopper. A few developments and details would have easily taken it from three to five stars.