BINARY by STEPHANIE SAULTER
EBOOK, 346 pages, Jo Fletcher Books
Received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Binary is what’s commonly known as “That difficult second novel”, the eagerly awaited follow-up to Gemsigns, which was released to much excitement in Spring 2013. This accomplished, information-heavy debut, set in a near-future world where genetic modification has become common, documented the struggle for genetically modified humans (Gems) to obtain basic human rights. Binary tells us what happens next, after freedom, after the dust has settled and humans and Gems are living uneasily side-by-side as supposed equals.
Equality has not solved all the Gems problems, and particularly pressing are the problems that may arise with future children, and children that Gems may have with so-called “norms”. The threat from religious fundamentalists may have eased somewhat, but the biotech companies who were so invested in Gem creation and manipulation are still a looming danger, especially Bel’Natur and its calculating, manipulative chief executive, Zavcka Klist. She is interested in prolonging Gem technology for her own deeply personal reasons, and she will stop and nothing, not even murder, to make sure she gets her way.
The book unfolds, in flashback, the fascinating parallels and the complicated, unexpected connections, between Klist and the unelected Gem leader and advocate, the unique figure of Aryel Morningstar, and their conjoined story is set against a fast-moving fight to safe the life of damaged Gem Rhys by finding his genetic prototype deep in the computer vaults of the Gemtech companies. Rhys, his twin sister Gwen, his lover Callan and almost autistic computer genius and hacker Herran unravel a plot involving theft, industrial espionage and murder that goes right to the dark heat of Bel’Natur, and that reveals secrets about the Gems own inception and purpose which, if brought to light, could have dangerous consequences for Gemkind.
Binary is fast, witty, technically adept, with a warm heart beating through it that occasionally gets lost under the cybernetic chatter. Much of the world-building was set up in the preceding novel, so it feels slightly less bogged down in explanation than Gemsigns was. The pace is quicker and more thrilling, and the reader has more time to invest in the characters. In Gemsigns it sometimes felt as if the idea was the star, here it’s the Gems, fighting to retain their newly recognised humanity in the face of Klist’s machinations. It’s a smartly-written sequel that improves on its predecessor, alive with ideas and intelligence (and yes, heart). A first-class second novel.
If you would like to read my review of Gemsigns on Fantasy Faction, please follow the link :