In the walled-in city of Agora there is no money, you live by what you can trade. If you can find a buyer, you can trade anything, even children are the property of their parents. And if you have nothing, if you are a Debtor, then you cannot survive.
This is the set up, but in David Whitley's new conspiracy thriller this idea grows and develops into a marvellously complete imagined world.
And so, in this hard-hearted society we find Mark and Lily, two children who have been sold as servants to the powerful Count Stelli. But in Agora, as soon as you reach your 12th birthday, this is your `Title Day' and you own yourself. Mark and Lily turn 12 with a few week of each other and must face a choice... because you can sell more than just your labour. In Agora you can trade anything even thoughts, memories and emotions - which are bottled up and sold like drugs. Mark discovers he can sell astrological predictions to merchants who are fearful of what the future might hold, and his own star rises safely within society. Meanwhile Lily, an orphan who has learned to hate the injustices of the system, tries to undermine it by helping the poor by opening an almshouse. An unheard of concept and a very risky course of action that brings her to the attention of the ruler of Agora, the mysterious Director.
Yet despite their differences, Mark and Lily stay in touch, somehow their paths keep crossing as if fate is determined to keep them together.
While there are certainly questions being asked, here, about society and its values, this book never feels heavy as the gripping plot races along twisting and turning, always in the shadow of the mysterious Midnight Charter - a secret document which seems to be influencing everything that Mark and Lily do.
Thought provoking and assured - a really impressive debut from this new young writer.