This book was a NetGalley read that mostly appealed to me because I had seen references to it on Goodreads and other book blogging communities, and I was intrigued – I’m not immune to trends, and I like to have read books that people are talking about so that I can join in the conversation. However, I didn’t know much about it before I began, which meant it was mostly a journey of discovery.
The first impression that I had was that there were a lot of narrators / POV characters, which made it harder to engage with any from the start. For a long time, I was only interested in a couple of characters, including Eris, as the others seemed unsympathetic and too caught up in their own problems to pay attention to those around them. That effect was heightened by seeing things from the others’ points of view, as a reader, as it created the impression that the others were being totally oblivious. The trouble was that the characters I liked only got one chapter in six, if that, and therefore I found it hard to stay interested, especially as the book was a lot longer than others I’ve read and reviewed recently.
The futuristic, high-tech, party-obsessed setting reminded me somewhat of Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, especially when combined with the unnatural beauty of Avery. While her genetically modified perfection did play into her personality and character development somewhat, I had to admit that I didn’t understand why so many of the characters needed to be attractive. I guess there wouldn’t be so many love triangles and misunderstandings if they weren’t. Because yes, that’s very much a thing, and if you know me, you’ll know that I’m not a big fan of love triangles. Especially straight love triangles where two characters believe their love is ‘forbidden’ and suck at communicating their feelings. So that didn’t sit well with me.
I did like the idea of New York as a tower, though, and the elements of social class and wealth that went into it. I liked the worldbuilding and the use of technology, from everyday things like travel to teaching to shopping. It reminded me a little of Mortal Engines, where the higher tiers are reserved for the wealthy or privileged, but with that highly technological twist. In places, I felt there was a little too much focus on the worldbuilding — the narrative would name and describe every unique device a character used — so while it added to the overall impression, it was a little overwhelming at times.
And although some of the characters bored or frustrated me, there were those I liked, such as Eris, who definitely grew on me as the book went on. As a bonus, she wasn’t straight, and she was one of the few who seemed to have actual, tangible problems – unlike most of the rich, self-obsessed characters who populated the rest of the narrative and managed to complicate their own lives because they don’t know how to confide in their friends. Her relationship was Mariel was one of the highlights of the book, although I also liked the character of Watt, whose illegal computer genius activities were more interesting than the party drama that occupied the other characters.
But… well, you’re probably getting the vibe by now that I didn’t really like this, on the whole. There were elements that appealed to me, and I definitely thought it had strengths as a book, objectively speaking, but I found it hard to feel sympathy for the characters, many of whom were hugely over-privileged. Of course money doesn’t solve all your problems, but when they were contrasted with characters who were genuinely struggling, it was difficult to feel sorry for them, and when I didn’t relate to their issues at all (many of them of the romantic variety), I just found it hard to care enough to be engaged in the book.
Add to that the many POVs and the length of the book, and I found myself getting distracted quite often, only persevering because it was a review copy and because – here in a hostel without WiFi in Yorkshire with earache – I had nothing else to do.
Granted, my earache and generally low mood might have contributed to my frustration with the characters, who seemed shallow and unlikeable, but I also had considerable issues with the ending of the book.SPOILER ALERT: it falls into one of my least favourite tropes, the Bury Your Gays trope, and doesn’t do it in what I consider to be a forgivable way.
(It doesn’t feel at that moment that the character who dies had to do so for narrative reasons; it was a seemingly arbitrary choice which one of them died, and it just happened to be the queer one. I’m less frustrated by the trope if it seems to serve significant narrative purpose and/or is particularly emotional and well-written.)
So while I hoped earlier in the book that it would eventually do something to overcome my original uncertain feelings and engage me fully, it actually did the opposite, to the point where I was a little bit irritated I’d spent so much time reading it. I don’t think it’s a bad book, but as someone who doesn’t care about parties or romance and is somewhat bored of ‘forbidden love’ stories about straight people, this wasn’t the book for me.