Gemsigns. Book review

gemsignsGEMSIGNS by Stephanie Saulter

Jo Fletcher Books, p/b, 320pp, £14.99

Reviewed by Martin Willoughby

Gemsigns is the book that kicks off the Revolution series, and sets the scene well enough that I am intrigued about what will follow. Sadly, it got off to a rocky start.

Chapter 0 was a waste of time, space, writing and editing, adding nothing to the story, explaining nought about what was to follow and every little piece of it was detailed somewhere else as the story unfolded. You could happily ignore it and start with chapter 1, which is far better. Had I not been reviewing the book I would have quit shortly into chapter 1 and thrown it away given the dross I’d read in Chapter 0.

That said, the book is well written, the characters engaging and the story moves along without getting bogged down in too much detail. The interludes (newscasts, reports and blogposts) that are dropped in from time to time at the beginning of chapters are enlightening, but distracting from the story, though the author’s attempt to do something a little different to the norm by using these devices is to be applauded. I blame the editor.

The story itself revolves around the Gems, a group of humans who have been bred to be different to the rest of humanity and used to fill jobs that are too dangerous or require skills that are rare.  Some have extra fingers, or increased strength, while others were bred to be breeders. They were created by companies known by the generic name of Gemtechs, as a response to the Syndrome which affected humanity in the first decades of the 21st Century and wiped out a good number of us. Since that time, humanity learned to iron out any defects through genetic engineering. The Gems are part of the result.

The story concerns the relationship between the Gems and the Norms, now that the Gems have been given their freedom from bondage and slavery, though there are many who want a return to the past, feeling that the Gems are a threat and need to be caged up for the protection of everyone else.

Dr Eli Walker has been asked to present a paper on whether or not the Gems should be allowed their freedom to live normally or be placed back in the care of the Gemtechs. Naturally the Gemtechs, who’ve lost a lot of money and the Pension funds who have shares in the Gemtechs, want the Gems back under control. One of their number, Zavka Klist, is trying to get Walker on her side and the side of the Gemtechs in subtle and not so subtle ways. The leader of the Gem community in London, Aryel Morningstar, is trying to persuade Dr Walker of their case, but without the political machinations of her adversaries.

The three of them on their own make a good story, but added to this is an odd Gem family who have a gifted child with a surprising past, one not revealed until the end. Both stories are gripping from near the start to the finish and have many surprises along the way.

In the midst of this are the Godgangs who have perverted their faith and believe that the Gems should be eliminated. They go about their task with gusto and a lot of violence.

There is also a deeper current to this story, examining, as it does, the relationships between groups. What the Norms fail to consider, in the midst of their hatred of the Gems, is that they are all genetically manipulated to remove signs of the Syndrome and other potential disabilities. The main difference between them and the Gems is the amount of manipulation that’s gone on and who performed it. In the background to these two groups are the Remnants, groups of humans who refuse to have genetic therapy and live with the consquences.

This book, despite its dodgy opening, is a thoroughly good read and sets the scene for future books, which, if this one is anything to go by, should be interesting.