Ever since his older brother Patrick went off to college, Matt Reece has felt loneliness encroaching. Every day, it gets a little closer. He sees it in the eyes of his dying dog, he feels it in the sick room of his dying grandfather, and deals with it when his two fathers are lost in either an alcohol haze or absorbed with ranch chores. The sense of abandonment gives Matt Reece panic attacks. Where his biological father, Jessup, takes the lead in helping Matt Reece ride through the impending grief, his stepfather, Kenji, does something far more miraculous: he cures the dog with a little handheld device.
Stunned by this powerful tool, Matt Reece sneaks into Kenji’s veterinary satchel and uses the device on his grandfather. Matt Reece doesn’t expect Kenji’s anger when he catches Matt Reece using the tool. Nor does the teenager anticipate having to abscond with Kenji moments later. Least of all, Matt Reece is wholly unprepared for a whirlwind, globe-trotting escape—let alone the realization he might be escaping from something far more sinister than any government. What starts as a father and son fleeing from governments that would have the power of youth unending as a political bribing tool, soon devolves into a fight for survival.
To explain a little more about the plot of this book (beyond the struggle of Matt Reece to stay alive), it is important that I tell you this book involves a sizable cast of characters that are divided into two camps. One camp involves the trajectory Matt Reece and Kenji take as they slip through snares and traps and generally fly under the radar to something like freedom. The other camp involves Jessup and U.S. law enforcement who are trying to track down Matt Reece and Kenji. There is a third camp, I suppose, that include scenes explaining the machinations of the executive branch of the government (i.e. the president) and the executives of the laboratory that was bankrolling Kenji and his partner’s research. This third camp, however, is almost entirely padding.
I am going to describe what I didn’t like about the book first and follow up with what I did like later. Oddly, the most egregious points all occurred toward the final quarter (last 100 pages) of the book. Every page left me wondering if I cared enough about the story to finish (I did—it wasn’t quite a hate read, but I was not getting any pleasure from the pages). A huge part of this I think stems from Chin’s failure to wind the story down. On the one hand, having an unrelenting escalation helps build tension and expectation. On the other hand, it left no real sense of finality and Chin fails to explore any aftermath with any of the characters—after all the dystopian conspiracy theory driven threads, it would have been great to have spent a bit of time seeing the characters go through introspection or readjust to the new world order.
Some things that irked me: It’s weirdly political and because it’s apparently set in 2017, I feel it’s tied closely to the U.S. political landscape of the time. There are also elements that I feel are inaccurate. Why would an open-ocean vessel still be using a sewage holding tank when it’s in open waters? And when their sail boat was hit by lightning, why didn’t it spring a million holes and sink, or at least burn a bit? There are also some areas I questioned based on my experiences in Japan. Why are they eating turkey in Japan? (I only found whole, frozen birds at markets catering to foreigners and only during the end of the year.) Why doesn’t the story recognize that Kenji’s homeland *does* have a rather sizable military force and it’s whole purpose is to protect Japan or that there are no trains at 1:30 in the morning? Why do two characters have several sentences’ worth of Spanish on page, but the book glosses over the Japanese with a “said so-and-so in rapid Japanese” and a few stock phrases? These deficiencies seem at sharp odds with the care Chin has clearly put into crafting an action-packed, mile-a-minute plot that moves around the globe. It also felt a bit insulting when I compare it to how Chin describes Matt Reece’s actions when he’s trying to break a wild horse. I realize many of these criticisms are more due to Chin weirdly hitting on a lot of things I have some personal experience with, so…your results may vary.
If Chin’s book succeeds at anything overall, it’s his dedication to *go there* with the plot. The author seems to have a vision about the story he wanted to tell and he just plods ahead and tells it. For the first half of the book, this works very well. The three camps I mentioned all play off each other and whatever the shortcomings may be of Chin’s research, it’s clear he mapped out who was going where and doing what. The periodic “checking in” with each of these camps added to my initial excitement. Even better, the introduction to the story is one of the few places where the author slows down and spends a little time with the characters themselves. My favorite part of the whole book was the introduction to Matt Reece, Jessup, Kenji, and grandpa’s lives on the ranch Promesa Rota. The descriptions were rich and the characters (and their relationships to each other) sketched out were compelling. Matt Reece is this 18-year old whose big brother has gone off to college. Matt Reece struggles with anxiety attacks over being abandoned, be it by his in absentia brother or the impending deaths of his dog and grandfather. There is a tender scene where Jessup helps his son breath through the attack.
As far as romance goes, I was pinning my hopes on Matt Reece and his finding some sort of love. Despite the dystopia that unfolds around him, he does find love with the son of immigrants from India, but be forewarned, while they get a HFN/HEA (not sure how to qualify that when the story is about immortality), there is precious little get together and being together on page. As Matt Reece and Kenji fight to stay out of the public eye and evade governments, I developed an attachment to Jessup. While there are hints at Kenji and Jessup’s marital romance, the fact that they end up in different groups primed me for a lovers-reunited type of thread. I’ll admit, Chin plays this relationship pretty damn well despite being but a tiny fraction of the action on page. Mostly, I was on tenter hooks waiting to find out if their marriage could be redeemed—it vacillates wildly, and is more than a little complicated given Kenji is on the run with their son while Jessup is on the chase with law enforcement.
Overall, this is an ambitious book that tries hard to cram a lot of action onto its pages. With two primary groups and a third helper group, the major plot points are reasonably organized and if you like stories that explore conspiracy theories, you may like this. This format makes the story read a lot like a thriller and not knowing who to trust and Chin adds excitement by splitting the Kenji/Jessup/Matt Reece family up into different groups. There are, however, a lot little “arcs” that feel like embroidery on top of a fabric woven from a warp and weft that have already been manipulated into an intricate pattern.
A review copy of this book was provided by DSP Publications.