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Milo, aka “Bane of Kings”, reviews the first novel in the ®Evolution series by Stephanie Saulter, entitled Gemsigns, a strongly written science fiction debut published by Jo Fletcher Books earlier this year.
“An excellent début novel, Stephanie Saulter brings a stunning opener to a promising series. Handling several aspects from world-building to pace and character development wel, Gemsigns establishes itself as one book that you really should check out.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
Humanity stands on the brink. Again.
Surviving the Syndrome meant genetically modifying almost every person on the planet. But norms and gems are different. Gems may have the superpowers that once made them valuable commodities, but they also have more than their share of the disabled, the violent and the psychotic.
After a century of servitude, freedom has come at last for the gems, and not everyone’s happy about it. The gemtechs want to turn them back into property. The godgangs want them dead. The norm majority is scared and suspicious, and doesn’t know what it wants.
Eli Walker is the scientist charged with deciding whether gems are truly human, and as extremists on both sides raise the stakes, the conflict descends into violence. He’s running out of time, and with advanced prototypes on the loose, not everyone is who or what they seem. Torn between the intrigues of ruthless executive Zavcka Klist and brilliant, badly deformed gem leader Aryel Morningstar, Eli finds himself searching for a truth that might stop a war.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect going into Gemsigns. Released in March, this book swept me by at first, and it wasn’t until I started hearing praise from it by reviewers who normally have good judgements on books that I’ll like, and when I was eventually able to read the book, I leapt at the chance to – and devoured it as quickly as I could. Like Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, Gemsigns is a book that really caught me by surprise, and for exactly the same reason – I wasn’t expecting it to be as good as it was. I was drawn in right from the start and kept on the edge of my seat right the way through. And if you need anymore convincing, it’s published by the awesome folks at Jo Fletcher Books, who are in my eyes – one of those rare publishers (Angry Robot is another) that I haven’t read a book from that I haven’t liked. They have Tom Pollock’s superb The Skyscraper Throne Trilogy as well as Mazarkis Williams’ impressive Tower and Knife Trilogy. Both series are very unique and very awesome and Gemsigns, the first book in the new ®Evolution series is another one that I can add to that list.
The book discusses one of the most interesting questions that has been presented to us many times before in fiction, as well as other areas – and that is What makes us human? The question is attempted to be answered by Eli Walker, who is one of the book’s many characters. He’s not the only one who gets a Point of View as well, for the book starts off with a third person narrative from someone whose identity is never revealed, allowing us to be introduced to some of the key players. Over the course of the book more and more characters are added to Gemsigns - Aryel, Bal, Gaela, Gabriel, John and of course Eli – allowing for a fairly complex narrative that also makes room for some perspectives from non-main characters when needed. This allows us to get into the heads of a variety of characters, who are for the most part complex and relatable, thanks to Saulter handling them very well, so that the story can move along at a pretty solid pace.
The world created by Saulter is really fleshed out well. Throughout the book you’ll find the odd article, or something similar – thrown in cleverly to provide info-dumps in a way that actually manages to work (most of the time), expanding on the near-future setting and creating a pretty original world. Saulter blends the use of technology that we are used to in the present with her futuristic elements to further add depth and intrigue to this setting, and manages to make the book move along without falling into the trap of slowing down the pace so we can examine everything that’s new in great detail.
Gemsigns is a rare book that doesn’t fall into the trap of focusing on the revolt or the rebellion of the genetically enhanced humans, which provides a relief because we already have a vast amount of novels that follow that plot-line in science fiction. It explores what happens after the uprising has taken place, and despite UN declarations, things aren’t as easy as they seem. Whilst this may not translate into a page-turning read, the book still manages to take place over a very short space of time (a week) with an interesting approach that deals with various angles of action, politics and more angles in order to keep the book ticking over in a compelling and engaging way.
Making a nice change to the recent action-packed novels that I’ve been reading then – three recent examples include Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson (review soon), Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie and BZRK: Reloaded by Michael Grant, Gemsigns is a debut that manages to stay consistently strong throughout and is certainly a book that you should consider checking out if you’re looking for something fun and entertaining. Whilst the info-dumping is pulled off mostly well, there are a few elements that don’t always work – some may not like the info-dumping that crops up every now and again, but aside from that minor issue, Gemsigns is superb. It’s something that more people should be looking at reading, and it’s a novel that should be receiving a lot more attention than it has been so far. Apart from a minor problem then – this book comes highly recommended.