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This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada

BOTTOM LINE: Not at all what I expected, for which I am very, very thankful.

Genre: Young Adult; Science Fiction
Publication Date: 7 November 2017
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“In this gripping debut novel, seventeen-year-old Cat must use her gene-hacking skills to decode her late father’s message concealing a vaccine to a horrifying plague.

Catarina Agatta is a hacker. She can cripple mainframes and crash through firewalls, but that’s not what makes her special. In Cat’s world, people are implanted with technology to recode their DNA, allowing them to change their bodies in any way they want. And Cat happens to be a gene-hacking genius.

That’s no surprise, since Cat’s father is Dr. Lachlan Agatta, a legendary geneticist who may be the last hope for defeating a plague that has brought humanity to the brink of extinction. But during the outbreak, Lachlan was kidnapped by a shadowy organization called Cartaxus, leaving Cat to survive the last two years on her own.

When a Cartaxus soldier, Cole, arrives with news that her father has been killed, Cat’s instincts tell her it’s just another Cartaxus lie. But Cole also brings a message: before Lachlan died, he managed to create a vaccine, and Cole needs Cat’s help to release it and save the human race.

Now Cat must decide who she can trust: The soldier with secrets of his own? The father who made her promise to hide from Cartaxus at all costs? In a world where nature itself can be rewritten, how much can she even trust herself?”

My Thoughts: At first glance and even upon the first quarter of the novel, This Mortal Coil appears to be yet another dystopian story in which a shady government-type organization is trying to control the country, but one lone teenage female holds the power to prevent this from happening. It even appears that there is an obligatory love triangle to hit all of the checkmarks in generic young adult science fiction/fantasy stories. The continuation of the story proves that these assumptions are anything but true, thankfully, as the story takes off in a flurry of unexpected twists, science, action, drama, and ethical quandaries. It quickly becomes a novel not easy set aside for real life as Cat garners sympathy and a fierce protective mode, compelling you to keep reading at all costs.

One of the best things about This Mortal Coil, in my opinion anyway, is the fact that it celebrates science and learning, particularly the STEM subjects. The entire premise of the story revolves around the idea that in the future society merges technology and medical science to allow people to change everything from their appearance to their health via gene masking. Cat spends her days proving how useful these subjects are not only to combat shady organizations but also for basic survival. To be fair, the science and the coding sections do get complicated and can be intimidating; it is going to be easy for readers to skim these sections because they are not part of your typical novel. However, Ms. Suvada does an excellent job explaining the intricacies of code and of DNA, making these sections educational as well as entertaining. Also, skimming these scenes come with their own risk. Not only does skimming them or even skipping them outright reduce your understanding of the story, it perpetuates the myth that STEM subjects are for certain types of people – something Ms. Suvada is expressly trying to debunk with her action-adventure story. This is a story where being passionate about the sciences is something to celebrate rather than hide.

Cat is an excellent protagonist. Independent, intelligent, and knowledgeable, she does not hide who she is or what is important to her. At the same time, she does not hide her vulnerabilities either. After all, she is only seventeen years old, forced to live by herself for two years while the world is seemingly collapsing around her. She loves her father and believes in his mission. More importantly, she understands priorities, capable of sacrificing the one to save the millions. She exhibits a rare maturity for her age, something no doubt born from her experiences, but Ms. Suvada allows her to show her frailties too. She may be mature, but she also has moments of self-doubt and self-consciousness that are the hallmark of the teen years. There is very little angst, as this is not so much a coming-of-age story as it is a mystery/action/adventure that only Cat can solve. At the same time, the story evolves into so much more as Cat explores the meaning of identity and personal rights while dealing with changing the fundamental structure of what it means to be human.

This Mortal Coil is a very strong debut novel. While not perfect, Ms. Suvada’s story manages to avoid so many of the pitfalls that tend to trip up debut authors in this genre. Her science adds a nice layer of complexity and interest to her story. Cat is a nice blend of vulnerable and strong, making her an engaging heroine in whom readers take a vested interest. The supporting cast is equally complex and prove their worth to be part of the story and by Cat’s side. Ms. Suvada leaves enough questions unanswered to pique interest in the sequel while providing plenty of answers to assuage a reader’s curiosity. Best of all, there is no major cliffhanger. The story definitely continues and readers will want to know what comes next, but there is no abrupt end of scene at a pivotal moment in the action. The whole novel is an exercise in exhilarating reading and a welcome way to usher in the holiday season.

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