The Phlebotomist by Chris Panatier
Angry Robot, pb, £9.99
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Nuclear war has destroyed civilisation, leaving many affected by radiation. To help the sick, the Harvest was introduced to get healthy blood where it was needed. The Harvest has been privatised, run by Patriot for the Government, and Patriot pays for blood. The more people who can benefit from your blood, the more you get. This has left society segregated by their blood type where people with O negative are the elite because they are universal donors.
Willa, a Patriot employee, was a phlebotomist before the war, someone who specialises in blood work. She wants to resurrect an old technique that will equalise the blood trade, making things fairer for everyone. But when Patriot reject her idea, she suspects something more is going on than just donating to help other people.
The Phlebotomist is set in 2067 after three atomic bombs have donated, leaving many people suffering from lots of illnesses caused by radiation. The limited resources are kept for those whose blood will benefit the most people. Anyone whose blood is AB-positive are considered low-blood because they can only help a small number of people. I found this set up compelling and believable. It’s an unfair situation, being valued by something you have no control over, your blood type. Yet, in a society trying to re-emerge after a disaster, it makes perfect sense.
Willa is also an interesting character. She is a grandmother, an unusual choice for the main character of a fantasy story. She must care for her grandson as her daughter died giving too much blood for the Harvest trying to raise enough money to survive. Willa is also a survivor of radiation sickness. She has experienced first-hand the benefits of the Harvest, making it something she appreciates and hates.
The focus is on Willa and her determination to revolutionise the Harvest, reducing other characters to minor roles, even her beloved grandson Isaiah says very little. For me, this minimalised the emotional impact of the story, as we only really have one viewpoint.
There are small chapters where we have another point of view, Everard, a man who cares for AB-positive children whose parents have died. While these chapters provide a refreshing change from Willa, they do not add much to the forward momentum of the story.
That said, The Phlebotomist moves at a good pace, and has plenty of surprises turns to keep you turning the page. I enjoyed it and put me in the unusual position of wanting more while also not. I’m desperate to know what happens next, but if I find out, then it may lessen the impact of the ending. If you like your dystopian futures with a twist, then The Phlebotomist is the story for you. Highly recommended.