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Review of LIBRARY book The Switch by Justina Robson #Brainfluffbookreview #TheSwitchbookreview #SciFiMonth2019

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I thoroughly enjoy Robson’s intelligent, layered fantasy – see my review of Salvation’s Fire: After the War – so I was delighted to find this offering on the shelves of my local library. I am also linking this review to the @SciFiMonth Challenge.

BLURB: In Harmony, only model citizens are welcome. A perfect society must be maintained. The defective must be eradicated. For orphans like Nico and Twostar, this means a life that’s brutal, regulated and short. But Nico and Twostar are survivors, and when they’re offered a way out of the slums, they take it. Unfortunately, no one told Nico the deal included being sentenced to death for the murder of one of Harmony’s most notorious gang leaders. Or that to gain his freedom, first he must lose his mind.

In many ways, this book follows a tried and tested trope guaranteed to pull readers in and make them care – two orphaned children in a horrible institution make a break to try their luck on the streets. And, yes, you’ve guessed it – the streets aren’t exactly brimming with nurturing kindness, either. They need to live on their wits and toughness, or die. Twostar is prodigiously clever with any tech that comes her way – so it’s Nico’s job to bring down any drones coming their way, enabling her to break them up for parts. Until they come to the attention of one of the local cartels…

The story is told in Nico’s first person viewpoint throughout, which is always my favourite pov when it’s done well. And because this is Robson, it’s fabulous. I love the depth and complexity she manages to bring to this complicated, tough, angry man without compromising the pace or tension. In fact, because I can connect so deeply with him and his innermost thoughts and fears, when he finds those thoughts no longer belong solely to him – I found I identified with the violation he felt. Again, it’s not an original theme within sci fi, but this time around I found I really, really minded alongside Nico when those upgrades he thought would provide him with abilities to pilot his way off the planet have added extras he wasn’t told about…

The other aspect of this book that isn’t immediately apparent, is that one of the reasons why both Twostar and Nico find themselves in the orphanage, is that they are faulty. Both of them are attracted to their own sex – an aberration that is regarded as unacceptable on Harmony. Unsurprisingly, Nico regards this aspect of his personality with some ambivalence, which Robson writes with compassion, insight and great tenderness. While the romance in this book isn’t a major component of story, especially in the beginning, I was extremely impressed at the intensity and beauty of the relationship that is featured. Though not surprised – this is, after all, Justina Robson…

This book is a standalone, apparently. And I am torn – I put it down with an unhappy sigh when I got to the end because I wanted to go on seeing the world through Nico’s eyes. But I’d hate to read a sequel that wasn’t as awesomely wonderful as this offering.
9/10