My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Review is from the ARC version. Yes, I’m aware this book is released now. u:
I always feel obligated to qualify my opinion about biology in books where there’s lots of it, so here goes: after taking every single available neuroscience course (except the 9-hour-a-week graduate one), I did two quarters of immunology at the University of Chicago. The second one, “Immunopathology,” was basically an entire quarter of tearing apart journal articles for the slightest hint of inaccuracy, and analysing the two major theories around how the immune system operates.
So what does this do when I run into fiction that extrapolates a world where the hygiene hypothesis (it’s explained in the book) has led to people having parasites surgically implanted for health reasons?
Not good things, I assure you. I know I’m being unreasonable, but if I can throw blood clots at noting missing accents in the Ancient Greek in the first Percy Jackson book (they’re corrected in the next four), there is no power on Earth that can stop me from super-scrutinizing something with scientific terminology in it.
Although the pseudoscience isn’t that bad. The notion of people being implanted with genetically modified parasites to combat the massive widespreadness of conditions requiring medication—like hell the US doesn’t overprescribe—seems pretty conceivable to me. And much as the whole ‘scientists are crazy’ thing bothers me, it’s more plausible for what happens to happen the way she describes. (I’m severely underwhelmed by the FDA, and I know private companies don’t contend with the same level of restrictiveness that an IRB at an academic facility, or governmental regulations, would impose.)
With that, part of me wanted this book to be more science fiction-y, with an emphasis on worldbuilding, because I do find all the ethical implications, not to mention the drug culture in modern America, super-interesting. But that’s not this book, nor does it pretend to be.
The ARC cover advertises this as a “thriller.” I confess I don’t read the genre especially often, but from what my understanding is, this book has some slow-paced sections that belie its thriller aspects. There were enough interesting things going on to keep me reading (because I am a giant nerd, the bit that made my jaw drop was the climax concerning the components of the parasite; that thing is the single reason I don’t want a cat), but I felt that some of the narrator’s issues are reinforced one too many times, while things like the odontophobia vanish quickly despite the weight they’re given.
That said, Grant is respectful of her readers. She doesn’t treat them like idiots, although she does assume a minimal to none scientific background—appropriate enough—and she doesn’t go out of her way to present revelations we’ve seen coming for a while as earth-shattering, even when the narrator perceives them as such. In fact, we’re consciously aware of a major plot point long before the narrator is.
Also, the setting is cool. I’ve been to Walnut Creek (and some other bits up there, including the Contra Costa detention facility). Northern California is a great place to set a zombie apocalypse.
The ending is the worst possible three words, though: to be continued. There are a few directions this story could take. I felt like it could all have been told in one book (especially with the slower bits cut), but then again it does end with a setup that suggests a different thematic focus. Depending on where it goes, I’ll pick it up.
I liked the snark in the voice and the way the character is constructed, even when I had questions about the underlying logic.