My mate, Mhairi Simpson, strongly recommended this offering so now that I’ve managed to get through my backlog of Netgalley arcs for the time being, I turned to this one.
Shock Pao is the best. In the virtual world the Slip there’s nothing he can’t steal for the right price. Outside the Slip, though, he’s a Fail – no degree, no job. So when his ex offers him a job, breaking into a corporate databank, he accepts—it’s either that, or find himself a nice bench to sleep under. Amiga works for psychotic crime lord Twist Calhoun so when Shock’s war comes to her, it’s her job to bring him to Twist, dead or alive.
This is classic cyberpunk in many ways – a dystopian far future, where far too many people are crammed onto the remaining landmass in a megacity. The majority live in ghettos, crime is rampant and the brightest few are cherry-picked to be educated and work for the corporations, with a secure financial future ahead of them. Shock was once one of these chosen few, but couldn’t face the prospect of a lifetime of boring dead-end work ahead of him, so dropped out. Trouble is, he has dropped a lot further down than he’d intended.
While Warom’s writing has the gritty lyric quality of the best cyberpunk when it comes to the world-building, she also excels at characterisation, which isn’t always the case with this genre. Shock is edgy, damaged and vastly prefers spending jacking into the virtual world, the Slip, to spending time with people. It didn’t help when he tangled with the wrong girl, who now has her hooks into him – dragging him into performing a series of tasks on the wrong side of the law. Until he finds himself in a mess of trouble. I don’t generally do lost causes and I’m not a huge fan of criminal underworld adventures, either – so by rights this one shouldn’t have really hooked me. And it did.
The quality of the writing made it a pleasure, but I thoroughly enjoyed Warom’s cast of damaged outcast characters, even the assassin, Amiga. It doesn’t hurt that there is a fair amount of humour within the writing, albeit on the dark side. The story takes it time to fully gather pace, but I’ve no problem with that.
The world is so richly detailed with all sorts of enjoyable flourishes, like the landships who contain floating populations from areas devastated by the quakes, that the fact Warom takes the trouble to also establish her cast of misfits was just fine with me. It meant that when the action started kicking off, I was fully invested in the world and the people involved, as well as being slightly on the edge of my seat. Warom has no qualms in causing unspeakable suffering to her main characters – and I didn’t know if they would all make it out in one piece…
This is one of the most enjoyable cyberpunk offerings I’ve read and a mightily impressive debut novel from a very talented author – and the good news is there is another book in the series due out next year. Yay!