It's an entertaining and intriguing read: an audacious plot well supported by excellent characterization. Themes of selfishness, selflessness and necessity provide food for the thoughtful reader, and a coming of age plot is handled deftly. The story is slightly marred (but not spoiled) for me by an environmentalist theme which is disappointingly crude, and jars somewhat in a book that does so much else so very subtly. So a well-deserved 4 stars rather than five, but well worth getting and reading.
I read a sample in Lightspeed Magazine, April 2012
, and immediately knew I wanted to read the rest. One plot line is a forensic detective story as statistician Julie closes in on the pattern and meaning behind a bizarre series of child-snatchings and burglaries. The other covers the stresses of a teen, Pete, who lives in the one small remaining community of human survivours after a global environmental disaster. Determined to rebuild the human race at any cost, they now live as guests (or possibly pets, or possibly experiments) of incomprehensible aliens. They are able to emerge from their artificial environment only for brief raids on the past to steal supplies, or children to boost their numbers.
Both sides of the story are well done and thought-provoking. Characters are particularly fine creations. Pete is very believably handled, no mean feat given the very strange environment he's been cast into. His anger and jealousies (and his eventual maturation into someone able to look afresh at his society and make moral choices) give the book a lot of its drive. Julie is an interesting and realistic mixture of ruthlessness and good intentions, warm emotion and cold determination - qualities also found, in different mix, in McAllister, the leader of the survivours. The alien hosts (or zookeepers? or experimenters? or angels?) are nicely handled too: we see them very little and their methods and motives are nicely opaque to the end. But the story never loses itself too far into introspection or character, moving along at a good rate that leaves you staying up to read some more.
For the thoughtful, there is a recurring theme of selfishness and selflessness: the good and bad that people do to further their own needs, or because they feel there is something that must be done, regardless of cost. For example, McAllister is an intensely moral character who nonetheless organizes the kidnapping of other people's children: the point at which Pete begins to see the ambiguity of this is one of the many merits of the book. It could so easily become preachy or tub-thumping, but the handling is nicely subtle. This big-thoughts-in-a-small-volume side of things reminded me of Farenheit 451 (praise indeed.
Four stars rather than five because I found the third plot, about a linked series of environmental and geopolitical disasters, less satisfying. Towards the end, the book wobbles towards disaster-movie cliche with a whiff of new-age environmental preachiness: which is a pity when the growing sense of threat and doom has been so well handled for most of the story. Oddly, in a story that takes you along through so many bizarre ideas, it is this point at which you catch yourself and ask "wait, surely it couldn't happen like that". I could have done with less exposition about how disaster comes to strike, and the "horrid humans trash the planet" theme is crude given the admirable handling of the other themes.