Flint draws upon the combination of rebellion and naivety in the normal teenage mind to create a science-fiction conspiracy that provides emotional complexity without requiring byzantine convolutions.
While this novella is set in the same universe as Distant Horizon and events happen shortly before that book, it is an independent narrative rather than a prequel.
Everyone in the Community takes daily pills to protect against a plague that ravaged the world decades ago. Galina has dutifully taken the pills throughout her childhood; however, as she approaches adulthood she reasons that the plague was contained years ago so there’s no need to put up with the symptoms of the pills. At first, she feels great, but then she starts to see things, the first sign of potential infection. As the Community’s response appears less and less compassionate, how can she separate actual conspiracy from plague-caused paranoia.
Any plot that centres on the possible existence of a massive conspiracy misleading an entire population risks tipping too far in one direction to keep reader belief: either the protagonist encounters a few things that could be interpreted as suspicious and immediately leaps from trusting the system to realising the truth; or the protagonist clings to their belief that the system is good in the face of massive evidence to the contrary. Fortunately, Flint steers between these extremes, presenting a protagonist who—while potentially slight more or less trusting than a particular reader—is likely to appear plausibly conflicted between truth and lies.
Flint’s choice of challenges is equally well balanced. While she does not gloss over the thought-wracking that questioning one’s entire society would cause, many of the situations Galina faces require an immediate physical or social response; thus the story has a sense of ongoing action rather than merely introspection pending more evidence.
The ending of the book has a strong sense of the story not being finished. However, there is a solid plot arc and minor arcs that are concluded tidily, giving this the feel of the first volume in a series rather than only part of a book.
Galina’s exposure to the Community potentially not being what it seems makes this an ideal entry point to the universe for new readers. Equally, although the secrets Galina uncovers will not be new to returning readers, Galina’s journey to discover them is different from protagonists in other series, so this novella is likely to provide a pleasingly fresh perspective rather than feel repetitious.
Galina is a very suitable protagonist for the story. She isn’t a naïve idiot but she also isn’t an emotional or intellectual genius. In addition to adding plausibility to the story, this allows both for her to notice possible oddities from which readers can draw their conclusion and for her to sometimes need explanations that grant the reader background information on the world. She is similarly a normal teenager rather than an outlier, flitting between petty rebellion and family, arrogant confidence and self-doubt, allowing both for failing through lack of maturity and succeeding thorough sheer luck.
The supporting cast are similarly well-integrated, with both a clear distinction between adults and teenagers and a sense of each character being a complex individual rather than a stereotype or foil for Galina.
Overall, I enjoyed this novella. I recommend it to readers seeking young adult dystopian science fiction that isn’t a dramatic rebellion or a angst-ridden romance.
I received a free copy from the author with a request for a fair review.