Reviews

SALVATION DAY, by Kali Wallace

 

Since watching the first Alien movie, I have come to equate ill-lighted, deserted ship corridors with dread and danger, and in this respect Salvation Day fits the bill in a delightfully scary way.

The background: a few centuries before the novel’s time frame, Earth was devastated by an event called the Collapse, which brought humanity on the brink of extinction. Hauling itself up by its proverbial bootstraps, the survivors decided to rebuild a better world, although only partly succeeding: the Councils are enclaves where the inhabitants can enjoy an optimal quality of life, away from the huge stretches of desert left by the Collapse; in these barren areas end up the people who either refuse to live in the Councils or are not granted citizenship, and the harsh life they lead fosters an increasing animosity toward the ruling hierarchy.

While before the Collapse a number of colony ships had left Earth in search of a new home for humanity, almost all of them disappearing without a trace, for a long time space was not a priority, and only recently mankind started to look again toward the stars, its bolder attempt being the construction of the ship House of Wisdom, a massive research vessel that should have been the first attempt to reach out again to deep space.  The dream, however, ended in nightmare when a deadly virus was released in the ship, killing everyone on board with the exception of a young child: since then, the vessel was placed in quarantine, enforced by a net of drones keeping everyone away.

As the story starts, a group of people belonging to a sect living in the deserted wastelands takes over a shuttle headed for one of the Moon cities, taking hostage a handful of graduate students, among them Jaswinder Bhattacharya, the sole survivor of the House of Wisdom. The kidnappers’ goal is to commandeer the derelict ship as a means of escape for the cult’s families, and to do that they need to deactivate the security drones using Jaswinder’s genetic imprint.  The group is led by Zahra, daughter of the man accused of releasing the deadly virus on House of Wisdom, but they all respond to their charismatic leader Adam, whose promises of a better life have inspired them all.

No plan ever survives its field deployment, however, and things start to go awfully wrong: just a handful of people manages to board House of Wisdom, half the terrorist complement and four of the hostages, and what they find contradicts any information so far released by the Councils about the deaths of the ship’s crew. There are no indications of a viral infection, most of the corpses floating in microgravity showing signs of extreme violence, while others barricaded in isolated areas seem to have died suddenly without any mark on them.  Jas knows that the official version was not the true one, but never said anything because he wanted to bury the terrible memories of the day in which he lost both his parents – still, he has no idea of the real threat facing the boarding party, and of the shocking discoveries waiting for them all on the deserted ship.

Reading the synopsis for Salvation Day, I thought it would turn out to be one of those blood-chilling thrillers where uncertainty about the situation and a hostile environment play a huge part in the story, and in some way it is – but in the end this novel is much more, especially where characters are concerned. Jas and Zahra are deeply flawed, and at first it’s not easy to create a connection with them: both scarred by traumatic events in their childhood they keep much of their inner workings bottled up, and for this reason they present to the outer world a façade that has little to do with their real personality.  It’s only as the story moves forward, and we put together the little pieces of their lives’ puzzles that we come to see them in a different light, and to understand the reasons for their actions.  The harrowing discoveries they make along the way help to create a sort of bridge between them – a tentative, unsteady one, granted – to the point that they find themselves working toward a common purpose: it’s interesting to learn they have both been led astray by lies, lies other visited upon them, lies they choose to believe because the alternative would be worse, and ultimately it’s the shared desire to expose those untruths that breaks the barriers between them.

As far as the story itself is concerned, it’s a deceptively conventional one, because the premise of the hijacking of a derelict ship does not walk the expected path, thanks to the twists and surprises disseminated through the story and enhanced by the excerpts of logs and diaries from the former doomed crew that pop up here and there building toward the final revelation – and let’s not forget the quotes from a message sent back in a probe by one of the colony ships departed before the Collapse, because it plays a vital role in the overall plot.

What’s more, in the honored tradition of science fiction narrative, Salvation Day offers much food for thought about the issues of our present, seen through the filter of the future: in this case it’s about the manipulation of truth in the name of higher goals or about the moral questions facing those who have the resources for survival, like the Councils, in respect of those who struggle in the wastelands, where it’s far too easy for desperate people to fall under the influence of any would-be dictator like the cult leader Adam.

This is a story with many layers, skillfully blended into a highly suspenseful background, and one that unfolds before your eyes not unlike a movie: I for one would appreciate seeing this turned into one, because its claustrophobic atmosphere, steeped in darkness barely illuminated by red emergency lights, from which emerge the floating corpses of the dead crew, would be very effective on screen just as it is in this well-crafted book.

 

My Rating:

Advertisements
Reviews

Short Story Review: WEATHER (from Galactic North), by Alastair Reynolds

Alastair Reynold’s Revelation Space trilogy is one of the most intriguing (and challenging!) reads I ever encountered, but it happened several years ago so that time has blurred my memory of it considerably, and the complexity of the narrative context in which this space opera series is set made it difficult for me to retain more than a few of the myriad details of that multifaceted tapestry.  A re-read is something I might enjoy one of these days, and I think this collection of longer stories from that same universe might be the best way to re-introduce myself with the characters and the wide, sweeping background they are moving in.

Weather is a novella-sized tale exploring in more depth the hostility between the Conjoiners and the rest of humanity, even that part of humanity that has chosen to meld flesh and machine: the Ultras, another of the factions in which the human race has fractured itself, combine mechanical and organic parts, either to augment some capabilities or to replace lost limbs, but they leave the mind well alone, finding the Conjoiner way of life beyond repulsive.

This story takes place aboard the Petronel, a cargo ship being chased by pirates: after a long, nerve-wracking pursuit, the Petronel’s crew chooses to stand and fight and, quite surprisingly, they get the best of their hunters, who have run afoul of some wandering space debris.  As they board the pirate ship to salvage equipment for repairs, the crewmen find a Conjoiner girl who had clearly been a prisoner and, not without some difficulty, take her aboard the cargo at the insistence of Inigo, the shipmaster, and against the objections of Captain Van Ness, who is highly distrustful of Conjoiners.

The two men have enjoyed, up until now, a close relationship borne of trust and mutual respect, but Inigo’s insistence in trying to deal with the girl – named Weather as a way to simplify her complicated designation – as a human being instead of a dangerous monster, drives a wedge between shipmaster and captain, to the point that the fracture seems impossible to reconcile. Only the danger presented by the failing drive – a Conjoiner model – will convince the captain to trust Weather, up to a point, and let her try to repair it so that the Petronel can reach its destination in time.

The rift between Conjoiners and the rest of humanity is represented here in all its bitterness, the past misunderstandings and troubles so deeply rooted that even the passing of time seems unable to lessen them, and Inigo finds himself trying to walk the fine line between two opposing feelings, while the story reaches its inevitable, bittersweet conclusion.

 

My Rating:

Reviews

Review: A LITTLE HATRED (The Age of Madness #1), by Joe Abercrombie

 

I received this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

My very first Joe Abercrombie novel was Best Served Cold, a tale of revenge that introduced me to the concept of grimdark as well as a story that had a profound impact on my imagination. Since then I meant to read his widely acclaimed First Law trilogy, but so far I kept being distracted by other titles, although all three books have been sitting on my e-reader for a long time, gathering virtual dust.

When A Little Hatred was announced, I was both intrigued and worried, because I wondered how much my lack of knowledge of previous events would curtail my enjoyment of this new novel: well, I need not have been concerned – granted, I’m aware I’ve certainly missed the subtler narrative nuances that readers of The First Law will no doubt perceive, but when an author is as good as Joe Abercrombie you can pick up a sequel series and find yourself right at home. It’s what happened to me with Brian McClellan’s second flintlock series, with John Gwynne now-running new trilogy, and now with The Age of Madness, and that’s the mark of an outstanding writer. This does not mean of course that I have abandoned the idea of filling that gap, on the contrary I now feel more motivated than ever…

The realm of Angland, never the most peaceful of territories, is once again in turmoil: wars of conquest are ongoing between various portions of the domain, with all the expected trappings of brutal skirmishes, looting and torched villages. But there is something else as well, something that’s unusual in a fantasy novel and which adds an intriguing angle to the story: the industrial revolution has come to Angland and while farmlands are being repossessed and smallholders turned away from their homes, the cities become the fulcrum of activity, with factories cropping up everywhere.

If a country enmeshed in war is a dismal sight, one where the… fires of industry burn day and night, polluting the air and absorbing an endless stream of laborers, is a far gloomier one, indeed. There is an almost Dickensian quality in the descriptions of these grim factories where people toil day and night in appalling conditions, only to go home to dirty hovels with no other prospect than more of the same the next day, and all for meager wages. Such a situation is bound to foment rebellion, carried out mainly by two factions called Breakers and Burners, whose names clearly point out to the intentions of their members, so that between the distant wars and the festering discontent there is an ominous atmosphere running throughout this story, even though it’s cleverly balanced with that sort of gallows humor I have come to expect from this author.

[…] an enterprising fellow had devised a system whereby prisoners could be dropped through the scaffold floor at a touch upon a lever. There was an invention to make everything more efficient these days, after all. Why would killing people be an exception?

Where the background is an intriguing one, the characters are the true element shining through so much darkness: I’ve come to understand that they represent the “next generation” from the First Law trilogy and here is where I most perceived my lack of knowledge of previous events, because knowing about their roots would certainly have helped me to appreciate them more, but still they are the best part of the story and I ended up loving them all, flaws included – especially the flaws, I dare say…  The men, with a few exceptions, seem to be either old geezers past their prime and their former glories or ignorant savages bent on killing for the pure pleasure of it, while the two main characters look both like children still waiting to reconcile themselves with the fact they have grown up.

Both Prince Orso, the heir to the crown, and Leo dan Brock, son of a powerful chieftain, seem to struggle under the pressures of their domineering mothers, the former because he refuses to give up his unending drinking and womanizing in favor of settling down with a wife and start producing children for the continuation of the dynasty; the latter because he wants to cover himself in glory on the battlefield, but was prevented from gaining direct combat experience and is more in love with the idea of fame than anything else.  Both of them will get the opportunity to come into their own and prove their worth but the encounter with reality will prove bitterly disappointing and painful – in one case physically painful, indeed – and they will have to reconcile themselves with the notion that the legends of old, which have fueled their ambitions, never talked of the less savory aspects of the road to fame.

The women fare much better, and I loved both the two main female characters – so different and yet with so much in common, as an entertaining conversation between them reveals in the second half of the book, providing one of the best narrative highlights of the story.  Savine dan Glokta is the daughter of most feared man in the realm (I remember when his name was mentioned with profound dread in Best Served Cold) and having inherited his ruthlessness has turned it into a drive for cut-throat business: there is no activity, no enterprise she has not a share in, and she looks like the kind of predator no prey can escape.  And yet Savine’s privileged, wealthy life left her unprepared to face the awful events she finds herself enmeshed in, teaching her that powerlessness is the worst state to be in.

Rikke, daughter of a northern chieftain, turned out to be my absolute favorite character here: brash, uncouth, foul-mouthed, she is a wonderful contrast to courtly daintiness or city refinement, and her ongoing journey from coddled mascot for a bunch of grizzled warriors to a hard, fearless warrior herself is a joy to behold, enhanced by the peculiar gift of prophecy she must learn to harness and control. Awareness of her failings and the outspoken way she talks about them are among her better qualities, and there is a core of plain common sense in Rikke that’s both refreshing and amusing:

Why folk insisted on singing about great warriors all the time, Rikke couldn’t have said. Why not sing about really good fishermen, or bakers, or roofers, or some other folk who actually left the world a better place, rather than heaping up corpses and setting fire to things? Was that behavior to encourage?

As for the story, all I can safely say without spoiling your enjoyment of it is that it moves at a very brisk pace, shifting between the different points of view as the brutal, merciless plot proceeds like an unstoppable avalanche that also offers two breath-stopping, very cinematic moments, during a bloody uprising and a single combat, that will keep you glued to the pages in horrified anticipation.

Where readers of the First Law trilogy will find themselves happily at home with this new saga, new readers will be intrigued by this cruel, unforgiving world and feel the need to learn more as they wait for the next book in this series.

 

My Rating:

Reviews

Short Story Review: A SPY IN EUROPA (from Galactic North), by Alastair Reynolds

Alastair Reynold’s Revelation Space trilogy is one of the most intriguing (and challenging!) reads I ever encountered, but it happened several years ago so that time has blurred my memory of it considerably, and the complexity of the narrative context in which this space opera series is set made it difficult for me to retain more than a few of the myriad details of that multifaceted tapestry.  A re-read is something I might enjoy one of these days, and I think this collection of longer stories from that same universe might be the best way to re-introduce myself with the characters and the wide, sweeping background they are moving in.

 

 

In the third story of this anthology the focus shifts from Clavain and the Conjoiners to follow another character entirely: Marius Vargovic is a highly skilled spy, enrolled for a mission on Europa, one of the major Jovian satellites, where he needs to contact a sleeper agent to retrieve an important substance that will prove pivotal in the struggle between the Demarchists and another faction for the control of political power.

The first part of the story follows more or less the usual patterns of spy lore: the agent arrives on site in disguise and mingles with the crowds of workers and tourists that move through Europa, then he meets his target while trying to look and sound inconspicuous, and finally he concludes his mission, heading for the retrieval point.  What comes as totally unexpected, as the story unfolds, comes from the descriptions of the place and the unforeseen turn of events that leads to the conclusion.

Europa looks like a fascinating and terrible place: not only the settlements around Jupiter are flourishing – mostly because the economy of Sol System’s inner planets is dwindling – but on Europa they are based on floating cities anchored to the moon’s frigid oceans thanks to a crucial technological discovery. The cities were built through the work of the Denizens, humans who had been genetically modified so they could survive in the cold depths of Europa’s seas, and have been used as little more than slaves ever since.

Vargovic’s task, on behalf of the Demarchists’ adversaries from Gilgamesh Isis, consists in taking possession of a material that will sabotage the cities, and to do so he needs to be surgically altered in a way that will allow him to live underwater for the critical part of his mission. But as such operations go, there are plots within plots involved and even the main operatives are unaware of every detail, so that Vargovic will have to face more than he could foresee, or had bargained for…

A Spy in Europa is a great change of pace and scope from its two predecessors, and at first I found myself a little disoriented, but as the story rolled forward, gaining momentum and upping the stakes, I was fascinated by its twists and turns, and highly surprised by the unforeseeable ending.

My Rating:

Reviews

Review: THE VIOLENT FAE (Ordshaw #3), by Phil Williams

 

I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review: my thanks for this opportunity.

The long-developing, all-out conflict brewing in Ordshaw is about to flare up, and nobody is inclined to take prisoners.  This could very well sum up the situation in the third and final installment of Phil Williams’ Ordshaw trilogy. And to think that it all started, quite prosaically, with the theft of some money…

Pax Kuranes used to be a gifted poker player, moving from seedy venue to seedy venue to earn a living through her skill with cards, but everything went upside down one night when, after she won a considerable sum that could tide her over for a while, a young thief stole her earnings and Pax, following the trail of that money, stumbled on a book that changed her life forever.  The book contained a huge amount of sketches of weird, scary creatures of a Lovecraftian nature, but they were not the product of an inventive – if deranged – mind, because under the surface of the city of Ordshaw another world lurked, filled with strange beings.

This is how this story began, two books ago, and since then Pax has learned that monsters roam the tunnels under her city and that the Fae not only exist but were exiled from those same tunnels by the fearsome beasts: she’s not the only human possessing that knowledge though, because a government agency, the MEE, is also monitoring the situation and a few civilians have, over the years, made forays into Ordshaw’s bowels.  After clashing with, and then befriending, the feisty Fae Letty and coming into contact with a few Ministry agents, like the level-headed Sam Ward or the oily Cano Casaria, Pax finds herself enmeshed into a very complicated situation where everyone’s survival is threatened not only by the monstrous horde dwelling in Ordshaw’s bowels, but by years of misunderstandings between the factions and by purposely disseminated lies that have kept them from uniting against the real danger.

Having gained – or maybe brought to the surface – the ability to sense the underground creatures, Pax knows she must do all she can to avoid disaster and here she keeps running against time, false accusations and people intent on killing her, to help her city and her newfound friends survive. No matter the cost.

Much as this series features a number of interesting characters, the story it narrates is above all Pax’s journey of transformation, from average person intent on making ends meet from day to day to selfless heroine: what’s extraordinary though is that she does so without losing her street-gained common sense or her endearing abrasiveness.  Which makes Pax the perfect counterpart for Letty, the foul-mouthed, wildly aggressive Fae who defies every kind of trope about such creatures and in so doing becomes one of the best characters in this series, and the one whose chapters I always eagerly anticipated.

And female characters are indeed the best – and best crafted – in this series, rising over their male counterparts in a significant way: not only Pax and Letty, but also Holly Burton, the wife of one of the bumbling adventurers who explored the city’s underground tunnels: in the course of these three books she grew from an angry spouse, suspicious of her husband’s mysterious activities, into one of the most dedicated players in the complex game, able to hold her own even against the senior Ministry functionary assigned to the case; or again Sam Ward, whose keen curiosity had driven her superiors to relegate her in a clerical position, until circumstances finally afford her to show her mettle. The men, sadly, fall quite short of such bright examples, like Chief Obrington, who takes a long time to emerge from his political obtuseness, or field agent Cano Casaria, whose dedication to the job is marred by a too-high consideration of himself and a strong belief in his appeal to women.  Even though, I must admit, he takes a turn for the better in the end.

The city of Ordshaw deserves a special mention as well, because it gave me the strangest vibes and little by little it gained its own personality just as much as the living beings inhabiting it: the most peculiar impression I gained was that it was more alive in its lower, hidden levels than in the surface ones – granted, the tunnels where the monsters dwell are dark, damp, scary places where the only light comes from the eerie luminescence of the creatures, and yet it feels… alive, no matter that it’s with the kind of life no one in their right mind would ever encounter.   The Fae city, on the other hand, is far from scary, because of its hive-like architecture that resembles that of a human city writ small – with neon signs and advertising billboards, theaters and office buildings, and everywhere flying Fae of every shape and color.  The city of Ordshaw proper, though, comes across as somewhat deserted, as if its people preferred to stay indoors and go out only when strictly necessary, and I wondered more than once if that was because of some subliminal signal coming from the dangerous underground.  I realize it’s a weird notion, but I could not shake it, no matter how much I tried…

I realize I have not said much about the story in this final book of the trilogy, but it was a conscious choice: there is so much happening, so many twists and turns, discoveries and betrayals, that to talk about them would be a disservice. Even though the story might appear a little confusing at time – or at least it was for me, given the great number of interlacing threads – everything falls into place in the end, and lays the foundation for new stories that might already be in the making, continuing this engaging journey.

 

Look out for The Violent Fae from November 5th!

 

My Rating:

Reviews

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Book Titles with Numbers

 

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme with a bookish (what else?) inclination: each week the prompt encourages us to look through our books to find those who fulfill its specifications – or to give our results an unexpected spin.  Previously created by The Broke and the Bookish, Top Ten Tuesday is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, where you will also find the list of future topics.

This week’s prompt is….

 

Book Titles with Numbers In Them

 

This TTT was a deceptively easy one once I decided not to take the second part of the challenge which required, where possible, to find titles numbered from 1 to 10 – the real problem surfaced once I looked at my list of past books and found that the ones with a number in the title where not so abundant as I thought. Anyway, here is my Top Ten:

 

 

1) THE TWO TOWERS, by JRR Tolkien

Pride of place goes to the second book in the LOTR, because… well… Tolkien. Enough said 🙂

The cover I chose is one designed by Alan Lee, one of the best – if not THE best – among Tolkien illustrators, and it portrays the tower of Isengard after the flood caused by Treeebeard and the angry Ents after their discovery of Saruman’s treachery, a very powerful image indeed.

 

 

2) 13 MINUTES, by Sarah Pinborough

A mystery coupled with a look into intriguing social dynamics in a school environment and a chilling account of social interactions between teenagers that never fails to inspire relief that I went past all of that quite unscathed…

 

 

3) ONE OF US, by Craig DiLouie

A dystopian novel about the aftermath of a virulent plague that caused the birth of peculiarly gifted individuals in the following generations: these children are segregated from an ignorantly intolerant world, while the more talented ones are exploited by merciless government agencies. A story showing that the definition of “monster” can take many meanings…

 

 

4) THE FIFTH HOUSE OF THE HEART, by Ben Tripp

Much as I always enjoy vampire-centered novels, this one literally blew me away – not only because of its unexpected, peculiar take on the theme, but because of its intense, breath-stopping pace. One of my best discoveries in the genre.

 

 

5) A SECOND CHANCE AT EDEN, by Peter Hamilton

This is a collection of short stories set in the Night’s Dawn trilogy’s universe and working as a sort of prequel for the main narrative body. An interesting way of seeing how the various factions like Edenists and Adamists came to be and to find themselves at odds with each other.

 

 

6) TWELVE KINGS IN SHARAKHAI, by Bradley Beaulieau

The opening novel in the Shattered Sands series, a story of revenge and discovery featuring Ceda, one of the strongest heroines I ever remember encountering. The setting is also a fascinating one: a harsh environment whose cities are separated by huge stretches of desert navigated by ships that sail on the sands propelled by wind.

 

 

7) THE SIX-GUN TAROT, by R.S. Belcher

A delightfully weird story that mixes, with great success, a Western background and Urban Fantasy themes: the city of Golgotha, on the edges of a vast, pitiless desert, is the place where you could find a sheriff rumored to be a walking dead, a housewife with the skills of an assassin or a native who can morph into a coyote. And much more…

 

 

8) PORTAL OF A THOUSAND WORLDS, by Dave Duncan

This is a very unusual fantasy set in nineteenth century China, a tale of convoluted plots and long-reaching plans, of sweeping rebellions and personal agendas. Maybe not the best place to look for strong female characters, but interesting nonetheless.

 

 

9) 1984, by George Orwell

Another book that needs no introduction: it could very well be considered the progenitor of many dystopian novels and the one that is still quoted whenever limitations to freedom – of thought, of expression – are mentioned.

 

 

10) FAHRENHEIT 451, by Ray Bradbury

Another seminal dystopian landscape and a nightmare for book lovers, given that in this alternate future books are banned and firemen tasked with burning them every time a hidden cache is discovered. And the other narrative thread, about TV and so-called interactive reality shows being the only kind of entertainment, is just as terrifying…

Reviews

Review: GHOSTER, by Jason Arnopp

I received this novel from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

The synopsis for Ghoster promised an interesting mix between horror and social media technology, so that it was too appealing a premise to let such a story slide by: it’s impossible not to notice how many people are absorbed, compulsively so, by their phones’ screens – on public transport, on sidewalks, even in restaurants where interaction with other tablemates has been replaced by fixed stares at those screens – and I was curious to see how the horror element would dovetail with this widespread phenomenon.

Kate Collins is a senior paramedic and she’s addicted to social media – or rather was: after her manic absorption caused her work partner some grievous damage, she decided that the best cure for her obsession would be to revert back to a basic model of phone, one where actual calls and text messaging are the only way to connect with the rest of the world.  While participating in a “techno detox” retreat, Kate meets Scott Palmer, who quickly turns out to be the man of her dreams: after less than three months, Scott asks her to move in with him, and Kate leaves her job and life in Leeds behind to relocate with Scott in Brighton.  When the day for the big move comes, however, Kate discovers that Scott’s flat is completely empty, the man does not answer her increasingly frantic messages and the only thing he left behind is his smartphone.

Needing to know what happened, Kate finds the way to unlock Scott’s phone and discovers the man seems to have built their relationship – such as it was – on a mountain of lies and things left unsaid: the Scott that comes out of his phone bears little resemblance to the one Kate fell in love with, and what’s worse, the empty apartment, where power has been disconnected, is haunted by ghostly presences that leave mysterious and disturbing scratches on the inner surface of the front door.  Kate’s downward spiral, compounded by the return of her addiction to social media, is unstoppable and each new discovery drags her deeper and deeper into what looks like a descent into madness.

Ghoster turned out to be a book whose two components – the story and the characterization – seem to be at odds with each other: while the first works well, because the need to understand what really happened remains a constant drive, the latter did not work well for me, mainly because I could not connect with Kate and found her increasingly vexing if not downright stupid.  At some point we learn that Kate has been working as a paramedic for fifteen years, so postulating that she started as early as eighteen, she must be thirty-three years old at least: however, the person we get to know in the book thinks and acts more like a thirteen year old – and I’m certain there are far more mature and responsible thirteen year olds in the world than this woman.

Kate is selfish and self-absorbed, an adult displaying all the worst traits to be found in those paint-by-the-numbers teenage characters giving YA fiction its bad reputation. Constantly complaining about the unfairness of life in general, she often looks prone to lay the blame on others, and when she admits her own failings she does so in a superficial, semi-serious way that belies the earnestness of the acknowledgment.  This frivolous approach represents one of my main contentions with Kate as a character: even in the most grim of situations, she always resorts to some pun, or pop-culture reference that has no place in that context and often made me wonder about the real “mood” the author wanted to impart to the story.  If Kate Collins was to be the embodiment of addiction to technology (or addiction at large), she does indeed display many of the symptoms – as denial of the problem, distance from the people wanting to help her, out-of-proportion reactions when faced with the naked truth – but in the end that offhand attitude, the false self-deprecatory jokes, spoil the desired effect and turn Kate into a caricature rather than a character we can believe in or relate to.

On the other hand, the story itself fares much better, because there is such a weirdly terrifying escalation in the discoveries Kate makes through the contents of Scott’s phone – not only the fact that he’s not the man she believed him to be, or that he seemed to entertain other relationships while they were dating and getting more serious, but the disturbing pictures and videos stored on the device.  And of course there are the ghosts appearing in the empty flat, which are frightening on their own and even more so when Kate finds their living pictures in the phone’s memory bank, or the weird scratches on the front door, or the definite sensation of being watched. The build-up, through false leads and shocking discoveries, takes us toward a surprise revelation that is unexpected and at the same time makes a chilling sort of sense, the kind of scenario whose deepest horror lies in its surface appearance of normality.

Sadly, the reveal takes what feels like a long time to get there – what with having to wade through the quagmire of Kate’s constant whining, foolish antics and outlandish theories – and when it happens, its intended impact has been dulled by this improbable heroine and her preposterous behavior.  Once I reached that final chapter I had the definite impression that the novel’s core concept might have started its life as a short story – a compact, imaginative, delightfully scary story on the dangers of technology addiction – and that it was later padded, quite unnecessarily in my opinion, with Kate Collins’ journey of discovery.  Which on hindsight looks somewhat wasteful…

 

My Rating: