The Hand of Raziel by Matthew S. Cox

The Hand of Raziel by Matthew S. CoxCox combines a world of high-technology and gritty streets with a nuanced portrayal of characters trying to balance means and end, creating a cyberpunk tale that will hold the interest of action junkies and character-seekers alike.

Orphaned at eight, Risa Black grew up among the resistance, watching the closest thing she had to family fighting to give the people of Mars command of their own destiny. So when they offered her extensive cybernetic upgrades she leapt at the chance. The ability to move faster than people can blink, see without light, and grow claws from her fingers, would be enough to divide Risa from the people she is protecting, but she also hears the voice of the angel Raziel. With even her allies considering her hold on sanity tenuous, Risa walks the path between letting the oppressors win and becoming a soulless assassin alone.

This novel is set in the same universe as Cox’s Awakened series. However, with a protagonist who – while not unequivocally not psychic – does not wield immense natural powers, this book is closer to the pure cyberpunk of corporations-as-nations and man-machine interfaces.

Cox skilfully interweaves three different arcs: the struggle for Martian independence, Risa’s desire to punish the people who had her father killed, and Risa’s attempts to make her life about more than destroying key facilities and killing occupying forces.

This focus on the emotional costs of her life provides a weakness to counterbalance Risa’s physical strengths, allowing Cox to provide the reader with the spectacle of cutting-edge cyberware without losing the tension that being an underdog brings.

There is a similar complexity to the wider struggle for freedom. Moving beyond the question of how far freedom fighters can go before they become worse than the status quo, Cox provides multiple parties wishing to control Mars: two different “terrorist” organisations seeking independence, two warring corporations with potentially very different visions of how society should be, and a crime syndicate who just want to profit efficiently. Thus, any blow that weakens an oppressor also provides another oppressor the opportunity to grow stronger.

Risa is a suitably complex protagonist: her teenage decision to become the most badass operative possible seems less black-and-white to her now she is in her twenties, and has experienced the isolation being great at mayhem brings. Filled with doubt about what she should do, and whether she would be better off if she weren’t filled with enhancements, her only certainty is that Raziel is real, and the reader does see evidence that his words are helpful; however, with both hacking and psionics a possibility, her receiving accurate messages and other mysterious assistance isn’t enough to rule out madness.

The supporting cast are equally nuanced, filled with cops and criminals who each have their own reasons for being kind-hearted or corrupt, rich people who want freedom for the people they know but don’t see the bigger issues, and saviours whose lies have more layers than an onion.

Overall, I enjoyed this book greatly. I recommend it to readers seeking a fast-paced science-fiction thriller.

I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.

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