In the future, corporations have bought out the government, and the United States have become the Corporate States. In this business-driven world, Nadia Lake, daughter of a powerful executive, is a princess. She’s engaged to Nathaniel Hayes, Chairman Heir for Paxco, one of the most powerful corporate entities on the planet. They can’t wed until she turns 18, two years from now, but things seem to be going right on track.
Except Nate’s gay, his secret lover is from the bottom-dwelling Basement class, and Nadia’s one of the very few people who knows the truth. Nate spends his nights slumming in the dangerous streets and clubs of the Basement (what used to be certain parts of New York City) while Nadia covers for him. What are friends for, right? But then Nate is killed.
And then he’s brought back to life as a Replica, a clone produced by Paxco’s proprietary technology, the well-guarded secret which gives them their wealth and power. As the son of the Chairman, Nate’s one of the few covered by what amounts to an exclusive insurance policy. The question remains: who killed Nate, and why?
Now Bishop, the main suspect, is on the run. Nate and Nadia must work together to uncover the secret of Nate’s murder, unaware that their search, which will take them to expected places and rock the very fabric of their society. Nate will do anything to clear Bishop’s name. Meanwhile, Nadia is being blackmailed by Dirk Mosely, Paxco’s ruthless, unscrupulous head of security. One wrong move on either of their parts, and it’s game over. And that’s when things get really complicated…
Obviously, Replica is the start of a new series, because in the wonderful world of genre YA, there’s no such thing as a done-in-one anymore. But as trilogy openers go, it’s rather interesting for the way Black handles things like personal identity and social class differences. Her future is one where you’re basically an Executive, an Employee, or a Basement-Dweller, and the rigid hierarchy is clearly leading to trouble. Because what’s a good dystopian without trouble brewing? For Story Reasons, the Executive class is a throwback to customs of the nineteenth century, while the Basement-dwellers are a catch-all of “do whatever it takes to get by.” Oh, and sometimes it’s referred to as Debasement, because why not. “It was like going to a very adult carnival—the kind where you could get your face painted while getting a blow job.” (I just had to share that line…)
The real appeal of this book is the spy-versus-spy level of backstabbing, double-crossing, and intrigue that seems to be going on between just about everyone. With Mosely seemingly in control of every situation, able to blackmail Nadia into spying on Nate for him while clearly having his own methods of determining what’s true and false, it becomes a game of cat and mouse. Nadia’s attempts to cut through the bull and take control of her own life are admirably twisty, and help to flesh her out as a strong female character trying to thwart a system designed to keep her in her place.
What I like is that Nate’s sexual preferences are made clear early on, and his relationship with Bishop, while tumultuous and complicated, still feels perfectly natural and organic. They’d make a cute couple if one wasn’t on the run for supposedly murdering the other… (This is unsurprising, though. Black’s written gay characters before, notably in her Morgan Kingsley urban fantasy series, where the demon cop and his lover were the highlight of the storyline.)
I love a good murder mystery. How much more interesting is the occasion where the victim himself gets to try and solve the case? All the while wondering just how much of “himself” he really is, and how much he’s lost in the process of being replicated. There’s an interesting undercurrent of social dissent and disapproval over the Replica process which helps to fuel some of the underlying conflict. We get hints that it’s not only frowned upon, it’s outright banned in many parts of the world due to ethical, moral, and religious objections. But it’s the lifeblood of Paxco’s business plan, and the true secret behind the Replica process may be one of those twists upon which the trilogy hinges.
While there’s a lot to like here, Replica didn’t necessarily leap out at me. Perhaps I’ve just grown too accustomed to dystopian science fiction, but Black pretty much hits all the expected notes for a competently done series, including the suggestions of romance and the inevitable move towards revolution and social change. In short, it’s a fun read but not a game-changer. Replica is enjoyable and even a little provocative, but it doesn’t push the boundaries or aspire to being much more than an entertaining story. Fans will enjoy seeing a new book from this author, and it’s a lot less depressing than many dystopians, and Black may yet surprise us all as she continues the series.
Replica is available now from Tor Teen.
Michael M. Jones is a writer, editor, and book reviewer. He lives in Southwest VA, with a pride of cats, way too many books, and a wife who translates Geek-to-Mundane for him. He is the self-proclaimed High Pornomancer of the Golden Horde, and the editor of Scheherazade’s Façade. For more information, visit him and an ever-growing archive of reviews at Schrodinger’s Bookshelf.