Thursday, August 28, 2008

Thoughts on Broken Angel

This book has an intriguing premise. At some point in the future America has split, with a fundamentalist Christian state called Appalachia formed inside its borders. The rest of America is a land with computer chip implants, virtual memories, and genetic tampering. These things are absent in Appalachia, replace instead by a theocracy that monitors everyone and drugs people with their communion meal to keep them from questioning things.

The main character in the book, Caitlyn, has a secret hidden from her by her father. This secret has a genetic component, and a tracker chases her to "harvest" this mystery.

However, there are people in Appalachia called the "Clan" who reject the oversight of the church. They try to practice a simple faith (in contrast to the official religion in the land), helping those in need and helping those wanted by the theocracy escape to freedom.

Theocracy. Control. Faith. Surveillance and safety. The future of bioengineering. Genetic manipulation. These are all potent themes for any book to address individually, much less in one book. It is a very ambitious task.

Unfortunately, it's a risk that falls short of what it could've been. My impression is that the project was limited in its length compared with the scope. The author shared on another blog that he was constrained by the fact that the story only takes place over a few days, mostly as one long chase. He's right that it isn't necessarily the best setting to wrestle with so many weighty issues. I wonder if the book was cut too short, compressed too much.

The book is a taut thriller with breakneck pacing that has interesting, fleshed-out characters. It is worth a read for a suspenseful tale. It just seems to overshoot its constraints.

I also read yesterday that the author is writing the sequel. This may allow him to investigate the potential inherent in his bold themes further. I'm hopeful to see what comes next from Mr. Brouwer.

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