My rating: 2 of 5 stars (2.5??)
Digital ARC provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
For two years, six months, fourteen days, eleven hours and sixteen minutes, Subject Six-Eight-Four — ‘Jane Doe’ — has been locked away and experimented on, without uttering a single word.
As Jane’s resolve begins to crack under the influence of her new — and unexpectedly kind — evaluator, she uncovers the truth about Lengard’s mysterious ‘program’, discovering that her own secret is at the heart of a sinister plot … and one wrong move, one wrong word, could change the world.
I honestly really really wanted to like this one. I think, though, it’s a matter of expectation rather than the book not being great? I’ll go into this, but I feel like if I’d been expecting more standard YA than Aussie sci fi book of my dreams I would have been pleasantly surprised. I also have to point out that I’m a biomed student with a focus on genetics, so I was looking very critically at the science in this book.
Actually, let’s start there. I’m all for… blurring the details and realities of science to make a premise that is kinda just outside of the reach of modern science. I actually adore it, and I understand it’s not always easy to do. This book was off to a really good start science wise. I honestly adore the idea that a major element was explained by unseen consequences in the trials of a fertility drug. How wicked is that? (spoiler)I struggle a little more to accept a second, later trial would ever be accepted, no matter how much they “fixed” the base compound, but that’s just being picky :9(spoiler)
What didn’t work for me was the actual depictions of scientists, particularly one “evil genius.” I am super super biased here, but the depictions of “genetics based testing” were just… wrong. And the problem was not so much that he was using the wrong tools, but that the premise was wrong? (spoiler)You don’t take physical chunks of tissues to examine the genes used. (Esp not with a drill?????) You’d be better to look at expression with simple biological samples… like a cheek swab Way more subtle, way less dangerous, and actually helpful. Also you can replicate samples and not need to kidnap and manipulate people again…(spoiler) It’s not super huge, and I know lots of readers would miss this, but it really took the stakes out of this book for me. He wasn’t scary, and he seemed evil for the sake of evil?
I mean, he also used insane amounts of violence that risked damaging his subjects, and like even if we’re accepting he’s cool with no morals at all, that’s just dumb? These subjects are super rare, you wanna be keeping them v healthy. Maybe there’d be some value to seeing their limits in response to pain, but idk
So with that in mind, I was probably more sceptical about everything else that happened than an ideal reader.
I am so torn about Jane. On one hand, I really liked her in the first half of this book, I loved how well her mentality was addressed, and I liked that there was that balance between her own agency (checking herself into a psych ward) and her loss of control (this whole place). She was strong, and I loved her resolve to stay quiet regardless of a power that she at least somewhat knew she had, because she didn’t want to hurt those around her. I also really like that they addressed her betrayal when she found out that “friends” were keeping key information away from her. But she also got over some huge things rather easily? There were a couple of key twists throughout the plot, and she adapted considerably well given her… mental state? I mean, she’s dealt with quite a bit of betrayal and danger, but she’s willing to accept people at their word at every turn, until it’s thrown in her face?
I really enjoyed the powers in the book, particularly the different ways a basic premise was interpreted. They were cool, and I loved the mix of danger and power. I liked the idea of training for control, as well as what it meant for the future of these kids. What I didn’t like, though, was how inconsistent the rules were? She kinda went back and forth on how much control she had, but as a whole picked up perfect control of her powers almost immediately. (spoiler)She was creating entire live beings in her FIRST lesson, but then would accidentally make fire when she mentioned how warm she was??(spoiler) It was cool, but I would have liked more build up there, especially given how strong her powers were.
I wish we’d had more of the other characters. I was really intrigued by them, particularly those that had grown up in the system. I know it would have taken some of the mystery away from the plot, but it really would have helped ground them, especially given that it was hard to trust what we were seeing at any one point in time. Without this, a few of them really just kinda floated in and out without context? (Like where is Enzo’s family?? Who is Keeda??)
Trying not to spoil too much, there is a major betrayal of a character that Jane trusts quite early on into the book, and I really wish we’d seen more of their “two sides” bleeding into each other. Without any clues in the text, the betrayal did come out of nowhere, which I guess was cool, but then they genuinely felt like another character for the rest of their plot, which just… didn’t work for me. Which was a shame, because I honestly thought that character was a really interesting one?
The plot itself really worked for the first half?? and then kinda came back into its strength at the end, where some points were cleared up. Some kinda standard (probably older??) YA elements made their way in (transformations with clothes, love interests who are mean, nicknames like “princess”, potential for love triangle), but I guess I’m only really picking on them because I was already pulled out by the science. I won’t lie I’m a sucker for love interests and even that whole hate to love trope so…. it’s not that they’re bad and shouldn’t be used, just that they weren’t really that new?
I really do want to like this book, but I think I was pulled out of the right frame of mind for this book far too early, and then nothing ever really got me back in. Which is a shame, because I feel like it had a lot of potential. I also really really want to support Aussie authors, esp Aussie sci fi, but… as much as it made me happy to see Aussie nicknames and locations, some things were… too much? (spoiler)I mean this TOP SECRET facility of DANGEROUS people is right underneath??? a hugely populated city, right in the CBD? Sure.(spoiler)
I will recommend this book to anyone who likes some of the more classic YA books, and doesn’t care so much about the science ahaha.