Review: Regeneration by Stephanie Saulter

Regeneration

 

Series: ®Evolution #3
Genre: Science fiction
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Publication date: 6th August 2015
This edition: ARC, received from publisher
Where to buy: Waterstones | Amazon UK

Synopsis:

The gillungs – genetically modified, water-breathing humans – are thriving. They’ve pioneered new aquatic industries, and their high-efficiency quantum-battery technology looks set to revolutionise the energy industry. But as demand grows, so does fear of what their new-found power might mean.

Then a biohazard scare at Sinkat, their London headquarters, fuels the opposition and threatens to derail the gillungs’ progress. Was it an accident born of over-confidence, or was it sabotage?

Detective Superintendent Sharon Varsi has her suspicions, and Gabriel sees parallels in the propaganda war he’s trying to manage: politicians and big business have stakes in this game too. And now there is a new threat: Zavcka Klist has been freed from prison. With powerful new followers and nothing to lose, it looks like she’s out to reclaim everything they took from her.

PLEASE NOTE! The following review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS for the previous two books in this trilogy. If you haven’t read those and don’t want to be spoiled, you may not want to read on…

It can be a bittersweet thing to reach the end of a series you’ve enjoyed. I have loved reading Stephanie Saulter’s debut trilogy, and its closing volume, Regeneration, is every bit the finale I had expected. To think I almost didn’t say yes, way back when Jo Fletcher Books offered me a review copy of Gemsigns. But I did, and here we are, and I’m so glad I did say yes.

Books one and two of this trilogy, Gemsigns and Binary respectively, focused on a revolution and its aftermath, again respectively. Regeneration is all about progress, about moving on, and about the various ways in which we can find difficulty in doing so. The socially conscious parallels between fiction and reality here are striking, and Saulter handles them in a way that’s both deft and fearless in its thought-provoking clarity. This is not a story for anyone who’s not interested in change. For anyone who is, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

To dive in further (tiny pun maybe intended), let’s look at the gillungs. They’re a great example of what I mean when I talk about the theme of progress. Everything that the political changes within this story have led to can be summed up using these gems as a case in point. Genetically modified humans have been granted legal rights, and they’ve been accepted as part of today’s society. They are an aspect of life that the ‘norms’ have just had to get used to, and they have, in many ways, gotten used to it. But prejudice and unease are never so easily quelled, and it’s harder to act like some people are just like you when they can breathe underwater without artificial aid – also, when they refuse to hide their light under a bushel. The irony of the fact that the gillungs are using their unique skills to improve the energy industry, one of the biggest issues in politics today (and one that’s getting nowhere near the serious attention it deserves) is one that Saulter refuses to allow to be lost on the reader, and there is where the ‘deft yet fearless’ result really shows.

But there’s more to this story than just holding up a mirror to politics or society’s issues – and this would be a poorer book if it was otherwise, however impressed I might be by that approach. All of the characters I had come to know, love and be intrigued by in the previous books of this trilogy are back, and the theme of moving on (and growing up) is not limited to business or politics either. Gabriel, the boy we last saw at the top of Newhope Tower in Gemsigns, is a rapidly maturing teenager, and not only that, he’s a young man smart enough to have earned himself a prime position among the gillung team working to improve the quality of London’s energy. Gabriel is at the helm of its social media management, and he is good at what he manages. Granted, he has certain advantages – a gift for telepathy being at the forefront – but wisely, this advantage is one the author never overplays. Rather than god-moding one of her primary protagonists into heroically saving the day, she uses Gabriel’s gem-like ability to subtler effect, and therefore lends it more impact whenever it does prove useful. (Yes, he is involved in the dramatic finale, and no, that show isn’t all about him – but that’s all I will say on that score.)

Another returning character who’s finding the pace of change a challenge to keep up with is Zavcka Klist, newly released from prison and facing all of the difficulties that such circumstances typically present to convicts (given that she remains under house arrest, she’s not quite an ex-con). On top of this, she’s become the fanatical focus of what’s known as the Klist Cult – a group of fervently “supportive” norms who believe that Zavcka’s actions were the right ones, for all that they got her locked up. They’d also quite like it if she shared with them how she’s managed to stay alive and healthy for so very long (because of course they would), but really they have nothing but admiration for her. This is pretty twisted, and given everything we know about Zavcka and her ego it seems to be the proverbial flashing neon danger sign – but bear in mind, this story is about progress, and Zavcka Klist is no longer beyond restraint by the rules, as it were. She does have an agenda, but where it leads her is somewhere I doubt anybody – including Zavcka – will expect.

So, there are surprises aplenty in this book, and I was taken in by each and every one. There’s tension aplenty, too, from a slow burn at the start, to a lit fuse as the plot starts unwinding, and I think we all know what comes after a lit fuse. I’ve said before that Stephanie Saulter has proven herself as a marvellously capable writer, and one thoroughly deserving of recognition. These books are astoundingly well-written for a debut, and if smart, diverse and socially aware science fiction is something you’re hungry for, you should definitely be reading her work. I’m almost sorry to see this trilogy come to an end, but I cannot fault the results, and I’m absolutely looking forward to seeing what follows it.

 

 

 

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