Series: Parasitology, #1
Published: October 29th 2013
This edition: eARC
Where I got it: NetGalley (thanks to the publishing people!)
Cover art: Lauren Panepinto
My rating: 5/5
A decade in the future, humanity thrives in the absence of sickness and disease.
We owe our good health to a humble parasite – a genetically engineered tapeworm developed by the pioneering SymboGen Corporation. When implanted, the tapeworm protects us from illness, boosts our immune system – even secretes designer drugs. It’s been successful beyond the scientists’ wildest dreams. Now, years on, almost every human being has a SymboGen tapeworm living within them.
But these parasites are getting restless. They want their own lives…and will do anything to get them.
I must be a glutton for twitch-inducing punishment. No, stick with me, because this is (at least in the case of Mira Grant’s work) most definitely not a bad thing.
I mean, come on. If you didn’t read that synopsis and shudder at least once, I would worry a little about you. Having said that, I cannot recommend Parasite highly enough.
There is, at least for me where Grant’s work is concerned, a very high “WTF?!” factor. Now, sometimes this factor can scupper my reading enjoyment. It’s happened in the past – but it certainly hasn’t happened here. Grant (aka Seanan McGuire, for those who didn’t know) seems to take an unashamedly thorough, most certainly delightfully twisted glee in the horror of science. I don’t just mean science fiction; I mean science. This book’s title alone might have clued you in on the fact that there’s nothing particularly cute or cuddly about it…
…If you haven’t read this yet, then trust me. You have no idea.
Now I haven’t done even a fraction of the research that I’m sure she’s done into this stuff, but one thing she does (and does unnervingly well) is make it sound convincing. From start to finish, this book takes its science impressively seriously. If hard science isn’t your cup of tea, or if the idea of parasitic infections is just too icky, then admittedly you may have a hard time enjoying this as much as I did. On the other hand, if you read that and you’re still here, then I’d say this book is not to be missed.
No, this book is not a lighthearted, fun and easy read. Yes, there are some truly disturbing aspects to the science. But (to return to that ‘glutton for punishment’ idea) what made me stick with it was a need to find out where it was all going, even while it was making me squirm so much I’m amazed I didn’t end up melded with my seat on the couch. As the story progresses and more facts come out, I did start to suspect pretty strongly what was going on, particularly with Sal Mitchell, the protagonist – but that didn’t stop me reading on in the slightest.
Sal is a patient of SymboGen, whose recovery from a coma that had all but left her braindead makes her a remarkable scientific study on two legs for the corporation who made the medicinal breakthrough that this book is all about. But, thanks to the military connections in her family (and certain other ones she makes on her own), this is far from being all that makes her interesting to SymboGen, and particularly to Dr Banks, the only remaining founder of the company that was built on the success of the Intestinal Bodyguard (that eponymous parasite). I’ll let that little fact right there tell you plenty more about the good doctor himself…
Yep, you probably guessed it. Before long, Things Begin To Go Wrong. Those genetically engineered parasites? Not as harmless as everybody thinks. Those of you who have read Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy might spot certain parallels with the whole scientific breakthrough/serious consequences aspects contained here, but speaking as someone who loved those books too, this is hardly a bad thing.
To dig into the little things for a moment (and yes, the urge to use the word ‘burrow’ instead of ‘dig’ there was pretty tempting), there are, interspersed throughout this book, ‘news’ excerpts and fragments of a fictional children’s story that, true to form for Grant, manage to add layers of depth, particularly to certain characters who, without it, might seem irredeemably cold and calculating, of no great sympathetic merit. Dr. Banks and his former founding partner, Dr Shanti Cale, are clearly here to pursue agendas that don’t seem to bode nearly as well for Sal, caught in the middle like she is. That said, despite all of the warning signs about them, both Banks and Cale got me thinking instead of just writing them off as thoroughly despicable.
Now, that’s not to say that I like either character at all – in a book that’s positively rife with ‘unlikeable’ characters, they stand out. Even Sal’s father made me want to throw my Kindle at a wall, especially in the second half of the book. I was quicker to warm up to Sal herself, thankfully, and to Nathan, her parasitologist boyfriend – though by the second half, he was also starting to make me frown. That, though, is skirting the edge of spoiler territory, so I’ll leave him alone for now.
The doctors, man. The freaking doctors. As if the braindead shambling parasite-hosts weren’t creepy enough… And speaking of creepy, on the flip-side of the despicable characters, there is Tansy.
Freaking TANSY. To say too much about her might spoil a bunch of things for uninitiated readers, but if there’s any one character in here that I fell utterly in love with (while, yes, being creeped out by her…) it’s Tansy. It’s as though Resident Evil‘s Alice and Harley Quinn were spliced together, given pink hair and a gun and let off the leash. TEAM TANSY, man.
Okay, let’s wrap up. Few writers can truly carve out a place in genre fiction where they get to stand and say “this is what I do best”, but I suspect Grant is one of them. This book is not an easy read, but if it hooks you, it really stays with you. It’s certainly staying with me – a few days after I finished it, I’m still thinking about it all. My mind is undeniably blown. I am thoroughly creeped out and on tenterhooks for Book 2, and I freaking love it. WANT MORE.