Saturday, 24 November 2018

The Subjugate by Amanda Bridgeman

The Subjugate by Amanda Bridgeman is a science fiction crime novel and the first book of the author's that I've read. Although it has intrinsic science fiction elements, it felt a more like a crime book with most of the story revolving around a series of religiously-charged rape-and-murders of women.

Two troubled homicide detectives race to find a serial killer in a town filled with surgically reformed murderers, in this captivating near-future SF thriller.

In a small religious community rocked by a spree of shocking murders, Detectives Salvi Brentt and Mitch Grenville find themselves surrounded by suspects. The Children of Christ have a tight grip on their people, and the Solme Complex neurally edit violent criminals - Subjugates - into placid servants called Serenes. In a town where purity and sin, temptation and repression live side by side, everyone has a motive. But as the bodies mount up, the frustrated detectives begin to crack under the pressure: their demons are coming to light, and who knows where that blurred line between man and monster truly lies.

This was very much a crime novel with the trappings of science fiction. Yes, some of the science fictional elements were essential parts of the plot, but the murder-solving part of the story would have worked just as well without them, with only minor tweaks. The premise of religiously-motivated murders in a small and insular religious town would have worked just as easily with an ordinary prison next door instead of a brain-washing facility. The idea of brain washing criminals to make them contributing members of society is an interesting one to explore, but I didn't feel that this book explored it in much depth. The impracticality of the system was only touched upon, ditto the morality. In the end it felt more like window-dressing than an integral part of the story.

When I was reading, I thought this book started out OK with a tolerably interesting premise an a seemingly rapid pace. But it wasn't long before I started to feel bogged down in the repetitive writing style (a lot of people spent a lot of time looking at things and each other in various ways) and not that interested in the plot. Sure, the murders needed to be solved and the culprit wasn't super obvious (there was a small pool of possibilities but it seemed like they all had roughly equal means and opportunity for much of the book), but the protagonist spent a lot of time being distracted by less likely possibilities and also her own past problems.

(Also, a thing that annoyed me quite a bit was that the author talked about AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) but then fixated on AR when it was quite clear from the story that VR was what was actually happening. And then there were the haptic VR suits which made no sense as described. The gory details of how they could even function as described were completely skipped over (and given how many other extraneous details we got, that seemed particularly egregious). The whole section with the detectives investigating in "AR" struck me as both sloppy writing and a bit gratuitous.)

As you can probably surmise from the rest of this review, I did not enjoy this book. By the end, it was a trial to finish. Even ignoring the plot and science fictional aspects I mentioned above, a stronger editorial hand would have made a big difference. I can't recommend this book, but I'm sure less picky readers who enjoy reading crime could find something to enjoy.

2.5 / 5 stars

First published: November 2018, Angry Robot
Series: Don't think so
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

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