Hello humans! Happy Monday and welcome to another book review! Today I am reviewing YA dystopian science-fiction (probably another fifty or so keywords needed here but those work for now) novel Phantom by Leo Hunt. I’ve never read anything from this author before so I was going into this story with almost no expectations. I ended up enjoying this read, though I do think there are some things that need to be addressed.
Sixteen-year-old thief and hacker Nova makes just enough to live on leeching from the corpsmen that live in the spires 400 storeys above the forgotten undercity slums she calls home. So when infamous anti-corp hacker The Moth offers Nova a huge sum to infiltrate and steal something from the biggest corp of all, Bliss Inc. – manufacturer of the neural implants that allow everyone in the spires continuous metanet access – she jumps at the chance. But what is the dark secret Bliss Inc. is hiding and why does The Moth want to get his hands on it so badly?
This book reminded me a great deal of Emily Suvada’s This Mortal Coil crossed with Matthew Blackstad’s Lucky Ghost. You have the idea of people being immersed in a virtual overlay, constantly bombarded by information and advertising, but also there’s the gene hacking/general programming vibes in there as well. I always love the idea of a hacker in books such as these, though my partner (who is a real-life programmer human) would probably tell me I’m using ‘hacker’ as a catch-all and technically it is incorrect. But all the same, Nova is a woman in tech, the kind of person we need more representation of. I thought that there were some great aspects to Nova’s character, she’s smart and she knows what she wants, but at the same time she is often very realistic about the situation she is in, rarely do you find her making sacrifices of good sense – unless it’s for something she really cares about. I’ll get to that.
The setting is also worth mentioning. I liked the idea of the wealthy living above in buildings that simply stretch further upwards as they block out the light, while the poor live in ‘the Undercity’ miles away from the sun. It’s not wholly original, I’ve seen similar concepts before, but the way this is written makes the contrast truly evocative. Reading about the Undercity you almost feel the grime under your fingernails, as Nova moves into the world above you can feel it too. I think that the descriptive writing is perhaps the strongest aspect of this book, there are a lot of strange things that have to be described, such as the visualisation of a computer program in physical space, but the writing makes it clear what you’re supposed to be seeing.
The plot is also interesting. I thought this was going to be a fairly straightforward story, anyone who has read a lot of dystopian YA could probably come up with a full plot based on this summary. However, the story has many more twists and turns than I ever would have thought, which certainly keeps you on your toes.
I would have given this book four, maybe even five stars if it weren’t for two things.
Firstly, the ableism. I can see how this was part of the setting, in a world where people can select and modify their genetics there is likely to be some ableism, but if a book is going to include those things in setting it had better condemn them, rather than treating them as something normal. So the use of words like ‘cripple’ or suggesting that the worst thing in the world would be to live without implants and then likening that to being unable to walk or see. This kind of thing was just said as if it were fine, which it isn’t. It wasn’t necessary for the plot and it was an example of something relatively small (I mean in terms of how much it featured during the book) can completely turn you off a story.
The second thing is less serious but is a pet peeve. Insta-love. We talk about it all the time in the blogging community and yet it doesn’t seem to cease. Of course, I know that in a book you’re never going to be able to fully represent the gradual build of a relationship, and that high stress situations can lead to people behaving perhaps a little more impulsively than they otherwise might. That being said, it is a case of one meeting before the characters in this book are all over each other. It’s something of a spoiler so I won’t go into too much detail but if you read this be warned. The insta-love is real.
Overall this book was an entertaining read, but the problems it had were too much for me to overlook. I ended up giving it three stars because I do think some people are going to really like it. I’ll be interested to see if anything else comes out of this setting and whether it will have similar issues.
My rating: 3/5 stars
I received a digital advanced review copy of this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
What say you? Is insta-love a turn off for you? Let me know in the comments below!