Sunday, January 5, 2014

Book Review: Quicksilver

While I scrambled and tried to post reviews of as many 2013 books as I could before the year changed I wasn't able to get them all up in time and in this case it's rather ironic since, while many of those books wouldn't have made my top five favorites list this one certainly would have. Back in 2012 I read Ultraviolet and while I really did enjoy it I was a bit leery when R.J. Anderson announced she was doing a companion/sequel novel to it since it wrapped up so nicely. But it sounded like since it was going to focus on another character (and I should note now, you shouldn't read this without having read Ultraviolet because it completely spoils it, although I am attempting to keep review as spoiler-free as possible for both books) which sounded interesting, and then she announced the main character, the point of view character, was asexual. And then there was no way I wasn't on-board for this, how could I say no to the first book I know of with a narrator with my own sexual orientation?

Quicksilver by R.J. Anderson

“Once upon a time there was a girl who was special. This is not her story. Unless you count the part where I killed her.” Alison may not have killed Tori after all but she was right, Tori is special. Adopted, unable to go more than 50 km from her hometown, having to be coached in how to read people and manipulate them, she even looks just a bit different than everyone else and now she knows why. Tori has finally found out why she was trapped in that small town and she and her parents escape, change their lives, and she changes her name to Nikki. But the people who were after her before may come after her again and she lives in fear of the day they have to run again, when someone from her past shows up and thinks that he has a solution that will free her for good.

Since I already mentioned it let me get it out of the way, I think that Nikki is a fantastic portrayal of an asexual character since Anderson neatly averts any negative tropes that Nikki is asexual "because x or y" and even manages to leave it semi-ambiguous if she's romantic or not which I liked*. I'm sure some people might wonder "But given that Nikki seems a bit anti-social at times and even admits that she had to actually learn to read people, aren't you worried that sends off the wrong message?" the answer is not really! I also like that Nikki is an engineer, a nerd in the traditional sense and a bit stand-offish, not only because those are traits that are a bit rarer in female characters (especially lead female characters) but also because even if she hadn't been asexual I would have connected with her because of those things. Now of course the best way to deal with these hypothetical criticism would be for their to be more books out their with asexual protagonists so that one character isn't the only exposure a lot of people have to the idea but clearly there's nothing Quicksilver can do about it.

As for the story, I did feel like the story was a bit weaker than Ultraviolet but Ultraviolet had the benefit of having a more traditional storyline. As a reader you can guess that what Alison thinks has happened hasn't and then the story becomes a psychological mystery/thriller (since it's not immediately clear what the "rules" of the setting are) but here we know the rules and the stakes so a little bit of the edge is taken off. While Ultraviolet was a psychological thriller with a sci-fi element to it, here the story is science fiction with a thread of a thriller in it (which occasionally gets psychological because knowing people are after you does mess with your mind some) and it doesn't work quite as perfectly. Admittedly I read this book quickly, perhaps too quickly since that does sometimes alter how I view the plotting of the book but even regardless I enjoyed it. It was interesting to see the returning characters from a different point of view and I found all the new main characters very realistic and well-fleshed out. Nikki was by far my favorite character and I loved how we saw that she didn't precisely fail but certainly messed up and had to both realize and fix those mistakes herself (I feel like there's too much of an obsession over having characters "fail" when I think that more often they should mess up but not completely fail, there's rarely enough time in a story to set that up and then bring them back in an meaningful, developed way afterwards). There were some areas where I felt like Anderson relied more on a trope or cliche to move the story forward than she should (like the trouble Nikki has convincing some of the people that yes she's an engineer even though she's a girl) but by and large I did still enjoy this book very much and would highly recommend both of them to anyone who enjoys YA with a psychological, unreliable bite to it.

*to clarify, while people are usually sexually AND romantically attracted to the same types of people it does sometimes vary. As best as anyone in the asexual community can tell, about 30% are also aromantic and the rest are a mix between heteroromantic, homeoromantic, biromantic, panromantic, etc. None of this comes up in the novel but I liked how it wasn't made 100% clear if Nikki likes anyone romantically or if she just likes people as friends.

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