I’ve been reading SF for a long time, and since I started reading with my father’s collection, which also went back a fair length of time, I’ve been reading stories from essentially the 1930’s and later, with the exception of some classics from even earlier. So I’m biased. I’ve “read it before.” So I won’t excuse clever writing that skips all of the other elements of good writing, as there are plenty of stories that do both well. Even more germane to this novel, I am biased against amnesia/regaining memory and time travel stories. Both are absolutely some of my favorites when done properly. The problem is that most of the time these plot devices are done shoddily and as excuses for flaws in the story development.
These story deals with the amnesia side of things, and unlike the hideous way it was handled in the recent Scorch Trials series, this handles it in an intriguing way. Once you get about two-thirds of the way through the book, you end up witha nicely done explanation. It’s hard slogging through the first third or so of the book. The story is told from the amnesiac’s viewpoint, and since her world is confusing and disjointed, yours is too. Plus there are these confusing flashbacks she keeps having that indications much of what those around her are telling her are leaving out all kinds of critical information to manipulate her, when they aren’t outright lies.
The problem is that the contradictions have terrible implications, and she cannot ask anyone exactly what her life was before the “accident” everyone keeps telling her caused her amnesia. There’s more to this, as in the first 10 pages or so she begins to have internal dialogs with a voice inside of her, that she realizes is part of her, yet seems to be more connected to the missing chunks of her lie. It’s an interesting plot conceit, and works because of the structure of the story.
The world itself is a plausible dystopian future, and in fact its weakest part come more from the science than the amnesia. There are teleportation tubes and widespread surveillance technology, and bluntly I’ve seen the implications handled much more adroitly than this novel. The teleportation tubes become a somewhat irritating plot device, and become one of those elements that become more of an excuse for the author to move things along and keep herself from getting caught in narrative dead ends. She hasn’t thought through all the other implications of these devices, and since the SF Great Larry Niven did a spectacular job with this over 40 years ago, I’m not exactly thrilled with this. You can also make the same observation about the surveillance technology. Bluntly, the British are already close to where the level in this story. It’s sort of like the computers in the original Star Trek. The technology feels more like a story set less than a generation in the future, and not even close to that in a world with widespread teleportation booths.
The characterizations are the best part of the story, IF you can last through the first part of the novel which drags a bit. Emma becomes a deeper, more complex, and sympathetic character and more fleshed out as her memories come back, which does make sense, especially towards the end of the novel when you find out the big plot twist. This is timed nicely to her recovering memories, and is definitely better handled than the majority of the stories that use this technique. While there’s not a lot of it, there is some fairly torrid romance and graphic sex scenes. They are critical to the plot, and are a very necessary element for the building tension and developments in the latter half of the book. Some parents may have issues with this if they have teenagers. However, by the time many teenagers are in high school they know this stuff anyway. I would definitely not recommend this for precocious middle schoolers.
All of the other major characters are male. They occupy the positions of power, and the reasons for this are gradually revealed as you read the book. Besides the medical director of the facility where Emma wakes up, the other two men who are part of Emma’s life past or present are both slightly older, trim, hunky, passionate types. Since the same holds true in the opposite direction in much of the SF written by men, it’s nice to see it looked at from the other side. It is definitely a romance, and in fact I would state the romance is a bigger element than the hard science side of things. Not a bad read, and I may follow up with the sequel, as it’s intriguing enough for me to see how Emma’s story develops.