Thursday, October 23, 2014

Tabula Rasa

bookcover of TABULA ROSA by Kristen Lippert-Martin
The story is told in the first person, and I don't think it could be told any other way. For the most part it is told in the present tense, which I generally don't care for, but it is needed, otherwise, the long memory sections would have awkward transitions through the past perfect. By casting the main story in present tense and the flashbacks in past, the narrative is able to maintain a cleaner flow.
This book is definitely not going to stand up to nit-picking, or careful scrutiny. Mainframes are mentioned quite often. If you think those are the giant, room-sized monsters we used to run Cobol on, they're not. Not in this book. They are either tablets, or maybe some kind of server class desktops. I'm not entirely certain. They are definitely supreme hacking machines.

"I killed the hospital's mainframe. But this awesome little thing"--he shakes the tablet--"connects to these soldiers' portable mainframes. This is the sort of the highest of the high-end stuff. Their portable mainframecan override every system in the place."
"This thing blots out one signal and replaces it with a stronger one. It can even override hardwired connections."

The neurology is even worse. Just accept that the pseudo-science stuff is just code for "they cast a high-tech, highly focused forget spell on her" and you'll be fine.
Where this book excels, and really, where any good book should excel, is characterization.
It hits three major themes: dystopia, coming of age, and falling in love. It's hard to fail with any of those, and all three are handled very well.
We start with a hospital, and outside of flashback, we generally stay on the hospital grounds, trapped by a raging storm that isolates an already isolated facility. Teenagers and young adults are being wiped clean of their memories, and to some extent their personalities, as they are given a fresh start, a blank slate. From the beginning we get the sense that something is wrong, and that subtle wrongness is allowed to build just enough before the action starts. As we get the details, bit by bit throughout the story, we come to understand the darkness, and surprisingly the love father to child, to drives the place. It is not mindless evil to be evil, the trap of some dystopias. It is the perversion of good intentions, the subtle corruption that destroys the system, that is the mark of an excellent dystopia. All of the questions are not answered, and I'm not sure they needed to be. This book, despite its closed environment, is grand in scope and leaves the reader with a sense of a huge world where answers just lead to more questions. I definitely want to see more from Kristen Lippert-Martin in this vein.

Sarah and Pierce both grow, and both transform even their names as they come into themselves. We get hints throughout that Sarah is special. She can catch jelly beans in her mouth no matter where they are thrown. She has an almost obsessive ability to track her environment. Pierce, conversely, goes from the one with all the answers, seeming to almost jealously guard them, to someone more willing to open up to others. She learns to fly. He learns to trust.
The romance is a subtle undercurrent that flavors, but at no point threatens to overpower, the narrative. It was handled with a deft hand, that makes it less of a Stockholm syndrome romance than most.
The body count, and to some extent the lack of reaction by the main characters to the body count, is however a bit disturbing.
Overall, I found it engaging dystopia. Not a perfect novel, but one good enough to be worthy of a read. Especially recommended for overstressed readers who just need a good escape novel.
I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

1 comment:

  1. For me it was entertaining but didn't live up to the publisher's hype. They made comparisons to The Bourne Identity, Divergent and called Sarah a Katniss-esq heroine and that raised expectations higher than the book could support. I received an ARC from the Amazon Vine program.