Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Book Review: Gemsigns by Stephanie Saulter

Pros: shows multiple viewpoints of challenging issues, thought-provoking, wide range of interesting characters

Cons: first chapter’s style didn’t work for me

It’s been a year since the Declaration that made it illegal for Gemtech companies to own their genetically modified humans went into effect.  In a few days Dr. Eli Walker’s report on wether gems are fundamentally different from unmodified humans will be delivered at a European Conference.  

Zavcka Klist of Bel’Natur, one of the main Gemtechs, has a plan to get the gems working again, and earning Bel’Natur more profits.  Aryel Morningstar, a petit gem with a disfiguring hump, is the spokeswoman for the gems, savvy and hopeful despite the realities of the challenges ahead.  Gabriel is a young boy, found by a gem in Aryel’s community, who has an unusual, and highly desirable, ability.

Tensions are high and, as the conference nears, a godgang starts attacking gems in the streets.

This is a brilliant book.  It takes place over 7 days, the last 5 days preceding the conference, the conference itself and the aftermath of Eli’s report.  It’s remarkable how much information and how many differing viewpoints Saulter manages to pack into those days.  She deals with the necessary background information via reports and news stories, so it feels natural.

There’s a lot of politics going on in the book as various players try to influence Eli and his report.  But the author makes sure the complexity of the issues being address is front and centre by showing not only the extremes of positions, but also the concerns of regular people, if mostly through mentions of what’s happening on streaming sites.

The economics of amalgamating a large group of people is also dealt with, both in terms of supporting those who are unable - or unwilling - to work and by showing the reaction of norms when gems ‘steal’ their jobs.

The issues being explored, slavery, humanity, discrimination, acceptance, as well as the gems themselves, with their engineered abilities, reminded me of Karen Sandler’s Tankborn trilogy, but the treatments and tones of the books are wildly different.  While Tankborn follows two protagonists who don’t have much power to change things, Gemsigns follows those at the forefront of the politics deciding what laws will be put into affect.  Gemsigns was very thought-provoking and relevant with regards to today’s politics, with its social issues (ex: do LGTBQ people deserve the same rights and privileges as their straight neighbours?).  

I loved the ending and the fact that I figured out the twist a few pages before it was revealed.   

The only complaint I had with the book was the style of the first chapter, which was a bit off-putting for me.  After that, the book took off and never stopped.

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