Why do we read? For many reasons and they all tend to be valid. One of those reasons is to find remarkable characters and that is what this novel delivers. Every character in this novel is distinct, has a unique history and speaks with authority. Albert, our main character, is a breath of fresh air with his intelligence and honesty about all the world shattering situations he finds himself in. Theo, a rambunctious child, is someone you can’t help to fall in love with. June is a woman hiding behind a self-made fortress while Colby and his soldiers are good men simply because they’re good men with no reason being required for it. The book is full of so many rich, realized characters.
I think one of the reasons for this is that Ramdas is totally confident in the world he’s created and operating in. Good, strong world building goes hand in hand with crafting strong characters I think. Without a true understanding of the world the story is taking place in, the job of creating strong, resonant characters seems increasingly difficult. So what in the story makes me believe our author is so confident in his world? He doesn’t throw it all at us at once. A lazy, less skilled writer throws everything and the kitchen sink at you when it comes to world building in the first couple of chapters. This is especially true in the world of speculative fiction, but Ramdas doesn’t take that route.
He doesn’t take that route, instead opting for the path of the more seasoned writer. He treats the relationship between the world building and the reader like a friendship. Think about it. You don’t meet someone and tell them your deepest, darkest personal secrets. And think about how uncomfortable you felt when someone you just met does that. That’s what overloading the reader with too much information at the beginning of the story feels like. Ramdas doesn’t follow that path. He opens up the relationship with surface details; casual talk to keep the metaphor going. As the story progresses it moves from casual conversation into deeper territory. Then finally once the friendship is solidly built the dark secrets and buried truths come flying out. By that time you’re so invested into the friendship that the details fill like things that satisfy that relationship instead of making your squirm. That is how good world building works.
So what’s this world like? It gives me touches of The Matrix, Ghost in the Shell, Total Recall and even The Book of Eli in some places. This world isn’t pleasant and isn’t happy though there are sparks of hope and some genuinely funny moments throughout the story. It serves as a cautionary tale of what happens when the rampant pace of technology and the need to be constantly plugged aren’t appropriately checked. We get to see what happens when our social media obsessions and lack of real human contact are pushed to the brink. And while this novel has plenty of dystopian elements, there are certainly plenty of critiques about the dangers of a utopian society too. I think the overall message of this novel is that extremes on either end are dangerous.
Now I can’t end this without saying a good word about the ending. I was so invested into the characters and by the time we got to the end I felt like I did at the end of the first Lord of the Rings movie. Aragorn and company could not abandon their friends to death and pain. These characters make a similar decision and it is a completely satisfying one. I closed my Kindle up with a smile as I finished it because it felt like time well spent with people who had become friends. What more can you want from a book?