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Wild Awake
Hilary T. Smith
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Bryan Peterson
Starters - Lissa Price 2.5 starsThe description of Starters immediately snagged my attention: teenage donor bodies, elderly renters, a vaguely sinister business commercialising on desperation, poverty and the allure of eternal youth for hire. I think it’s a strong idea and ripe for ethical discussion, in this case examined through the lens of a post-apocalyptic/dystopian world where the fallout from biological (I assume) warfare has rendered life precious, and youth a commodity. The balance of power has been drastically shifted by removing an enormous segment of the population, and the divide between poverty and wealth is vast and unbridged. Unfortunately, I can’t really say that Starters delivered on my high expectations. The story is told from the viewpoint of Callie, fending for herself and her younger brother on the streets, who against her better judgement accepts a contract with Prime Destinations to rent out her body, in order for the rich and old to briefly experience virtual youth. What seems to be a painless means to money and security for herself and her brother goes awry when Callie wakes up in her renter’s life – and discovers that not all at Prime Destinations is what is seems. I think I wanted a more nuanced and thought-provoking look at the premise of body-rental, physical "perfection" and the ramifications thereof, when what was actually on offer was more of a mystery/action-movie in book form. And that’s not a bad thing, especially when the story kicks into high gear during the final 20% or so. The plot begins to twist, the pacing is genuinely gripping, and Price throws some good curveballs. The lead up, however, lacked punch for me, and was riddled with plot weaknesses. This is another case of an extremely improbable scenario (everyone between 20 and 60 falls victim to the “Spore Wars”) as a backdrop to a murder plot, a chance for the heroine to experience life on the other side and drive fast cars, and muse on her various romantic entanglements. While I actually really quite enjoyed the final section of the book, so much of the mid section just seemed a bit ridiculous - was the Cinderella shoe scene really necessary? and flimsy. My main issue with Starters, however, is that the fact that too many problems and solutions in the plot feel convenient. There are too many plot devices that seem like exceptions and technicalities for me to buy into them. Characters “just happen” to have [insert skill, object or motivation] or “just happen” to know [insert information] and just happen to be [insert right place, right time] and it feels forced, not fluid. The main villain in Starters is sufficiently interesting and creepy. Additionally, Starters packs some ambiguity in it’s ending which makes the sequel quite enticing. However, the characterisation fell a little flat for me – I didn’t feel much of an investment in any of them – so I think the appeal of this book hinges directly on the plot. In summary – some great ideas, a really strong ending, but a set up that takes some buying into and relies on some all too familiar tropes. An advance review copy was provided by the publishers via NetGalley