Blending the common truths of being a teenager and being homeless with engaging science fiction world building and exciting challenges, Cox creates a tale that will interest fans of young adult, social commentary, and ripping yarns alike.
Wars, disasters, and social collapse have turned Earth into to a single city-state distributed throughout the urban wasteland that covers the planet. Social status has replaced the old-fashioned prejudices of nation, race, and such, making poverty seem a sign of criminality or worse. Faced with a choice between sexual assault and losing her citizenship, Sima chose to run. After four years on the streets, it still feels like the least worst option, but the begging and pleading that worked when she was twelve is less and less effective with each day bringing more younger cuter children to tug heartstrings. Now her only options are prostitution, active criminality, or joining the terrorists; or the “clearly too good to be true” offer of a government scheme that gives outcasts a new better life.
Cox paints his world with a mix of dystopian tropes and details that would pass through a character’s thoughts at that moment, providing the reader with the background needed to understand both events and their consequences without distracting from the immediacy with lectures.
Filtered through the lens of a protagonist on the cusp of adulthood who has experienced both citizenship and its absence, this allows for the plot to be both a fast-paced science-fiction adventure and an emotive portrayal of disadvantaged youth betrayed by unchecked greed.
As with Cox’s other works, there are moments of humour or subtle reference which both offer the reader a moment of joy at having got it and make the bleakness of the story more horrific by comparison.
While the story doesn’t avoid the challenges of being a sixteen-year-old homeless girl, such as prostitution and periods, the majority of their impact is implied rather than explicitly detailed, making this novel suitable for less mature readers without damaging realism or empathy.
Sima is a very sympathetic protagonist, with a plausible mix of strengths and flaws. Plausibly for someone subjected to sexual assault as a child, she is aware of relationships as a thing but displays no romantic interests. Instead her doubts are shaped by the interplay of hope that things might work this time with the cynicism of a teenager whose parents really are against her.
The supporting cast display a broad range of maturity and morality: children who are just and unthinking simultaneously; police officers who are not cruel or corrupt but act from a belief they know what’s best; brothel owners who use children but only in certain ways; and criminals and revolutionaries who blur the line between self-indulgent rejection of society and believing the greater good justifies doing harm.
Overall, I enjoyed this novel greatly. I recommend it to readers seeking science fiction with depth and pace.
I received a free copy from the author with a request for a fair review.