Reviewed by Susan Oke
This novel is set in the near future and is aimed at the YA market. The premise of the book is interesting: unbeknownst to the majority of the population, world leaders agreed to the release of a mood-inhibiting nano-virus in an attempt to prevent all out nuclear war. Unfortunately the war starts before the nano-virus can take effect. Trevalyn Industries, who designed the nano-virus, have their own agenda: they want to use the virus to re-engineer humanity.
The book opens with a prologue set in November 2015. Lord Simpson is dying from a virulent form of bird-flu that, together with the onset of nuclear war, is decimating the population of the world. Trevalyn, owner of Trevalyn Industries, knows that the so called ‘bird flue’ is in fact a lethal reaction to the nano-virus. A fact that he is not about to admit to anyone.
The story resumes in 2110 with the protagonist, Dez, celebrating her sixteenth birthday. She is waiting for the stroke of midnight when she will automatically connect to her telepathic twin. This twin could be anywhere in the world, and once the connection is made they will be able to communicate mind-to-mind instantly. At the appointed moment, her telepathic twin does not appear. Dez’s biggest fear has come true: she is an ‘Empty’.
The book is centred around Dez and Seth as they work to unravel the mystery surrounding the death of Seth’s mother. The protagonist is written in first person, present tense. This works very well when depicting teenage point-of-view characters, though the practice of starting and finishing each of Dez’s chapters with italicised statements becomes a little irritating.
In an attempt to come to terms with being an ‘Empty’, Dez undergoes hypnotherapy. This process kick-starts a new ability, and Dez is shocked to discover that she can ‘hear’ the thoughts of everyone. She is a true telepath. Using her new skills Dez unwittingly draws the attention of Trevalyn Industries, and the two teenagers discover the depths to which the current director will go in order to protect his family’s secrets.
While Stuart does an excellent job of capturing the emotional turmoil of a teenage girl, the degree and frequency of screaming, crying and occasional fainting is a little overdone. The liberal use of exclamation marks doesn’t help. Seth is a likeable character, with his own tragic background. The exploration of Seth’s internal struggle would have given the story more depth. As it is, Seth is relegated to playing the solid and dependable rock that Dez can and does fling herself against.
The structure of the book is interesting, switching between time zones to build the history behind the mysteries that Dez and Seth are trying to solve. We follow the fortunes of Baroness Julia Simpson and her family, who continue to be suspicious of the Trevalyn Industries and its motives; and we see the machinations of the Trevalyn family, their internal power struggles and long term plan to create true telepaths via their ubiquitous nano-virus.
In contrast, these historical chapters are written in third person, past tense and represent a number of different points-of-view. While the shift between present tense and past tense works well, I do feel there was no need to also change fonts. It’s distracting and implies the reader needs help to differentiate between the two time lines.
As Dez’s telepathic talents evolve, she begins to relive the deaths of seemingly unconnected individuals as they are murdered. The writing is certainly evocative and captures the terror of the victims. The nature of the murders themselves, however, left me questioning why this serial killer hadn’t been caught. Given that this is, surprisingly, still a high-tech world, there is no mention of DNA testing to discover either the identity of the victims or the killer. That is the other slightly troubling aspect, less than a hundred years after both a nuclear war and a devastating pandemic, the world seems to be in a decidedly healthy, organised and technologically advanced state.
The weaving of all the various strands of the story to form a satisfying climax was deftly done. Although I was a little disappointed by the coda, where the heartstrings of the reader (primarily teenage girls, I suspect) are given a good tug in order to set up the sequel.