84K by Claire North
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I really had to debate between giving this a full five stars or the four, but ultimately it all boils down to whether or not the heavily ambitious tale was pulled off in spectacular flavor or whether it must remain a disquieting tale with an end that will either leave a bittersweet taste in your mouth or leave you anxious.
I personally think it'll be a bit of both.
I'm reminded of a bit of Les Miserables and a bit of Charles Dickens in this one, which is either odd or awesome when you consider that this is a high-concept SF dystopia where everything boils down to a price tag.
Lives, crimes... ANYTHING can be paid for. If you're unproductive, it's much easier just to liquidate the asset. Namely, you. Pay the blood price. And if you're rich enough, then anything can be had. It's the ultimate capitalist nightmare.
Fine. We've had stories like this before. Even recently. But here's where Claire North really shines. She never rests on any kind of concept. She dives deep, retaining a lyrical air with complex and satisfying novel structures that focus more on telling highly personal and emotional thematic threads for her characters. Linear storytelling is not a high priority.
And in that respect, she has a lot of giant storytellers' shoulders to stand on. She's carrying on a very creative and complex tradition and owning it for the SF community. For that, I must applaud. :)
For this tale, however, we go from apathy and invisibility to the realization that the MC has had it all wrong the entire time, that missed opportunities and reveals such as his high-school flame having his child and he never even knew... and especially in this world... would have truly nasty consequences. Especially when that old flame is murdered. She was worth only a measly 84k.
After that, it's a tale worthy of a mighty revenge couched in the simple statement that he will find his daughter.
Usher in some truly horrific worldbuilding, degradation, gruesome deaths, and revolution, all the while seeing how the other side lives... and dies... and we've got something quite epic. Without quite feeling epic.
The MC's quest is monomythical. Nothing else matters. The pendulum has swung.
The resolution is fascinating and complex and not easily digestible. Everyone seems to have a hard time living in this world. There are no easy fixes. This is not a place for heroes.
I would not expect any readers to come away feeling happy... but that's not the purpose of this tale. It's meant to make you think. And it does that in spades.
Not a traditional blockbuster, right? Right. And that may be its ultimate strength.
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