4 of 5 stars
Published May 2016
New Arcadia is a city on a massive oil rig out in the Atlantic ocean off the coast of Newfoundland. It is the future with advanced technologies and corporations that own and run a lot more than the governments do. The Lynch family’s corporation has just bought New Arcadia where everyone works in the industry or supports it. Prostitution is legal and unionized but the women generally bring bodyguards with them on their “dates”. That’s where Go Jung-Hwa comes in. She’s a bodyguard.
Most people have their bodies augmented and implanted and genetically engineered, but Hwa is 100% organic and because of that, she has no internal coding that can be hacked. She’s also battling an illness which manifests itself in seizures, and physically, with a stain over much of one side of her body and face. It has kept her as an outsider all her life. Even her mother rejects her most of the time. Her beloved older brother died in an explostion on the oldest part of the rig three years previously. She has trained and made herself strong and can kick major ass when she needs to. She is a survivor. She is tough. She has her own moral code and given her upbringing with an abusive mother, she could have gone down a much darker route to self destruction but is a decent person under that hard shell defensive exterior. She seems to want to do the right thing, protect people, right the wrongs, and she doesn’t let her disability keep her down in spite of most of society finding her looks repulsive if they don’t actually edit what they see in the first place.
Enter the Lynches. They need a bodyguard for the youngest of the family, teenage Joel, who is the heir apparent, though has older half-siblings. He is his elderly father’s choice but needs to be protected from recent death threats and trained in self defence. Hwa is offered the job. She must report to Daniel, the security head.
But then, the prostitutes start dying. Someone seems to be after them, or are they after Hwa? Are the deaths related to the threats against Joel? Hwa suspects maybe they are. Who can she trust? Is Daniel all that he seems? there is mystery in his past as well.
I really liked this book. I think Ms. Ashby did a great job building this world and the characters. Even many of the minor characters are diverse and distinctive. Hwa’s self confidence and defiant attitude masks a broken girl who has managed to survive the odds. She’s not a nice “sweet” person but she’s admirable in her loyalty and vulnerability when she lets it show. She doesn’t trust easily and keeps to herself a lot and I did like her. There is a subtle romantic vibe between she and Daniel but it’s not what the story is about. Joel is a good kid growing into a massive amount of responsibility.
The plot moved along quickly though I have to say the ending got a bit confusing in its circumstances, just a bit. I think the end had a bit of timey wimey other worldy about it which came out of nowhere. Now and then, Hwa’s Newfoundland accent comes to the surface and it comes across as a bit awkward, especially since she’s half Korean and speaks that language as well to her mother. You wouldn’t expect her to have a broad Newfoundland accent that she mostly doesn’t use. The message of the book, or one of them, seems to be a warning against all this technology, changing our physical bodies to the point where we are little more than a long living shell, nearly an artificial intelligence.
It is one of the books up for the competition in the 2017 Canada Reads. It should provide some interesting debate. I am also going to use it in my Bingo Challenge as a Canadian-written mystery.