Science documentary producer Greg Chivers’ first novel is a delightful combination of sci-fi, politics, and the three strange characters ensconced within them.
Chivers’ future Jerusalem is a city all but ignored as irrelevant by the world’s leaders, and in its anonymity the Holy City has become a haven for smugglers, exiles and extremists. While flying under the radar of the globe’s superpowers, the Middle Eastern metropolis teems with dubious characters, black market operations and dangerous deals, making for an intriguingly fresh setting to the familiar sci-fi tale.
Navigating this volatile environ is Clementine: an android bred for war but who’s found freedom and is on the run and needing to disappear. To survive, she must learn the ways of humans, the strange city she’s found herself in, and the world beyond battle, while always keeping her much desired technological capabilities hidden from the many who would exploit it.
It’s Clementine’s tale that provides the backbone to The Crying Machine. Understanding her origins, what and who she is, and how she connects to a mysterious artefact that’s getting all the wrong people interested, propels the story forward and makes for an engaging and often thought-provoking, read.
Sadly, the other players are less enthralling. Clementine’s partner in crime, Levi (a low rent criminal who employs her to assist with a burglary on the promise of aiding her escape), is charming enough but eminently recognisable in his sketchy demeanour and wise cracking attitude.
Equally, corrupt Jerusalem minister Silas, the third point of Chivers’ character triad, while an effective and intimidating presence, fails to make any lasting impression beyond his designated function.
Despite these weaker supporting characters, Chivers’ desire to create a world in which ‘strange and mystical things could happen, but seem quite normal’ is definitely realised, and his TV-script writing experience informs a style that’s pacey, accessible and immersive.
In this debut novel, perhaps the author’s biggest achievement is the undeniable curiosity he’s able to generate in an atmospheric, intriguing setting that keeps the pages turning, and the compelling need to know what happens in the end.
A swift, confident, and pleasurable read.
Written on 22nd April 2019 by Alice Wybrew.
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