About the Book
Sixteen-year-old Nadia Lake comes from a high-class Executive family in the Corporate States. Her marriage has been arranged with the most powerful family in her state, which means she lives a life of privilege but also of public scrutiny, followed everywhere by photographers, every detail of her private life tabloid fodder. But her future is assured, as long as she can maintain her flawless public image — no easy feat when your betrothed is a notorious playboy.
Nathan Hayes is the heir of Paxco — controller of the former state of New York, and creator of human replication technology, science that every state and every country in the world would kill to have. Though Nadia and Nate aren’t in love, they’ve grown up close, and they (and the world) are happy enough with their match.
Until Nate turns up dead, and as far as everyone knows, Nadia was the last person to see him alive.
When the new Nate wakes up in the replication tanks, he knows he must have died, but with a memory that only reaches to his last memory backup, he doesn’t know what killed him. Together, Nadia and Nate must discover what really happened without revealing the secrets that those who run their world would kill to protect.
This book was sent for me to review by the publisher.
I haven’t read many young adult science fiction books, so when I get them in the mail; I tend to jump on them for that reason alone. I enjoy unique, and I also enjoy broadening my literary horizons. When I received Replica, I jumped on it and I read it in a day. Now, people who follow the blog might remember me saying a few times that if I read a book in a day it means I either loved it or hated it. Well, Replica tries hard, but in the end, it just wasn’t for me.
One of my issues right off the bat is that for a science fiction world, there really isn’t much SciFi involved in this book. The world itself is a future version of our own, but it’s not really that future. In some ways, it’s a step back entirely. For example, many of the social structures have a very European Monarchy sort of feel. Women go in public wearing big dresses and they worry a lot about Victorian era social protocols. Men have more liberty and freedom than women do. In their living environments, people live on their own at a much younger age (the protagonist, Nadia, and her betrothed are both 16 and 18 respectively and live in their own apartments) and the only real SciFi aspect of their living arrangements is the fact that they live in an apartment by themselves at such a young age. Other than that, they ride in limousines, answer to their parents, go to school and learn things and whatever else. For a SciFi world, there really isn’t much SciFi there.
All of these points are accentuated by the fact that Black never gives the reader a timeline to reference. This takes place in the Corporate States, so we know it’s not now, but when is it? In most of the good SciFi books, readers are given a reference point of some sort. In Peter F. Hamilton’s books, we know it’s waaaaaay in the future because of the planetary travel and advanced technology. However, the only real SciFi feel to Replica is the fact that Nathan has a replica. Other than that, the people ride around in limousines, so it can’t be too far in the future and the social structures make me think of the 1800’s. If Black had added some sort of firm world building that screams “This is SciFi” at readers, perhaps some of my problems with the world building would have been rendered null and void. However, with different aspects of the world screaming different time periods at readers and no firm timeline for people to work with, the problems the world building faces are just highlighted.
That being said, society has evolved. There are social classes, the sort you’d expect in a sort of Victorian-esque SciFi world. The world itself is ran by big businesses, marriages among the upper crust is arranged for alliances and whatever else you’d expect and there’s also a very bottom class, the lowest of the low, who live somewhere called “the Basement.” Black really doesn’t spend much time on any social classes between the upper and lower most. Perhaps in her world there isn’t a middle class. No matter what the cause, the clash between upper and lower classes is rather fascinating. Black involves bribery, secret police, blackmail and everything else. Her politics are dirty, and the world they play in is just as dirty and polarized. She highlights all of that really well.
Perhaps my biggest complaint with Replica is regarding the characters themselves. For a young adult novel, they aren’t really that young adult. Nadia is sixteen her betrothed is eighteen. They both live on their own, go to meetings, get daily schedules for their busy lives printed up for them, do interviews, worry, love and hate. The only time that either of them really feels young adult is when Nadia is in school and she has to deal with the teasing of her fellows. Then her age is apparent, but otherwise their lifestyles and some of the themes that are toyed with (like drugs, for example) are incredibly adult which makes me wonder why this book wasn’t just written for adults. The ages of the protagonists just doesn’t line up with how old they act most of the time. Perhaps in Black’s world children have to grow up faster, but even then the young adult feel was almost completely lost on me except for a few snippets (mostly social situations) here and there.
(The following paragraph contains a minor spoiler. Read at your own risk.)
Replica, in its heart, is a murder mystery. Nathan, Nadia’s future husband, ends up murdered. He and Nadia have to find out just who murdered him. In the process there is everything you’d expect from any good young adult novel. There’s some romantic tension, plenty of adventure and action, a secret organization is uncovered, and both Nadia and Nathan find themselves in the middle of it all and way out of their depth. The problem is really regarding the set up for the plot itself. The suspected murderer won’t come as a surprise for anyone, and Black makes his guilt so obvious to the reader that it actually does the exact opposite. It makes the reader certain that he’s not guilty and thus, unleashes a ton of predictability in the novel. When most of the plot twists take place, the reader will discover they anticipated and expected (insert plot twist here) chapters ago. It’s really a buzzkill.
When everything is boiled down to its roots, the problem with Replica really isn’t the writing style, or the plot, world, or characters. It’s the fact that this is a novel that can’t decide what it is. Is it science fiction? Urban fantasy? Victorian? The society and world is such a mix of all of those that it really isn’t anything special or memorable. Likewise, are the main characters teenagers or adults? Their ages say one thing, but their actions and thoughts say another. Replica doesn’t really have a “place” in the speculative fiction genres. While “genre bending” is a positive term most times, Replica isn’t a genre bender, it’s just confused about its own identity. It’s billed as a young adult science fiction novel, and while occasionally all of that pops through, it doesn’t show up often enough to really scream “young adult” or “science fiction” to me. Other than that, Black has an interesting story on her hands. Some of the build-ups make the plot incredibly predictable, but the concept is interesting and the writing is solid. In the end, however, I just can’t recommend the novel. It suffers from identity confusion and that identity confusion makes it incredibly difficult to suspend my disbelief enough for me to enjoy the book.