Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Book Review: Monster

I don't normally post reviews on this blog, since they're more for my Rivershore Books one, but I enjoyed this book so much I wanted to share it here, too.

I approached this book with a little trepidation. Monster sounds like the title of a thriller—a genre I tend to avoid. The actual genre of this book is something like dystopian, realistic fiction, with perhaps a little science fiction. It’s difficult to place it, since I hadn’t read anything quite like it before.

Set in 2053, Neal paints a realistic (if undesirable) future. The story begins in a medical facility in Alaska, and follows a brilliant young scientist, Eva, as she receives a promotion in WorldCure and is given a chance to run tests and experiments on one of the facility’s subjects. Her goal, and the supposed goal of her employer, is to find cures for diseases. There are darker motivations at play, however.

For a book that takes place in the future, Neal did a great job of keeping the advancements (or regressions) believable. Nothing seemed too far-fetched, from the technology to the declining morals.

Although it’s not my favorite genre, I’ve read and seen enough futuristic fiction to know authors are easily tempted to exaggerate some of the advancements we’ll have. For example, the hover cars in Back to the Future are supposed to be here in 2015. I suspect that after these next two years pass, I’ll still be waiting for mine.

There wasn’t anything like hovering cars in Monster. The new technologies Neal introduced were very small, subtle differences from what we currently have: things I can picture actually occurring in the next forty years.

It wasn’t the technology that drew me into the novel, though. There is a depth to her characters that was immediately noticeable. She has a talent for observing little but important details: those pieces of a person that give you a glimpse into who they are. The way she captured the quirks, flaws, and beauty of the characters was wonderful. I fell in love with her characters—Mir in particular—and they kept my attention through all 400+ pages.

A little warning: there are some violent parts throughout the book, and descriptions of unpleasant medical procedures, mainly within the first half. The scenes themselves are short, but for me they left a lasting impression.

Neal is skilled at descriptions. No matter where her characters went or what they were doing, I could clearly picture the scene. I have never been in a medical research facility (hospitals don’t count), but if I had any artistic talent, I could draw WorldCure. The way the scenes are painted gives the reader something to imagine without bogging us down with too many unimportant facts.

But arguably the best part of the book—at least, the part that has me replaying it over again in my mind days after I’ve reached “the end”—is the fact that the topics within it are far from “fluff”. Monster brings up deep, thoughtful subjects such as faith, humanity, and how to balance scientific facts with improvable beliefs. Neal handles each one of these excellently and naturally, with realistic discussions, mainly in the form of debates between Eva and her professor friend and mentor, Pocky. None of it seems forced, and none of it seems “preachy”.

Every once in a while, there comes a book that captures the reader so much, it stays with them long after they’ve put it down. These are rare, but wonderful. Monster is one of those books.

The paperback and Kindle versions are both available on Amazon.

I was given a copy of this book in exchange for this unbiased review.

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