Genre: Futuristic YA
Source: Netgalley eARC (Advanced Readers Copy)
Implanted is YA cyberpunk with a very interesting premise. Emery lives in a dome city called New Worth, built on the remains of Fort Worth after climate change made the outside world uninhabitable. The city is built hierarchically, with three vertically-stacked districts: the Terrestrial District, the Understory, and the Canopy. The rich and powerful live in the Canopy and get to see the light; the poor, in the Terrestrial District, live in perpetual twilight. Nearly everyone has an implant, or computer in their head, that lets them communicate with others silently, get directions, find out how near people are, etc.
The really interesting thing, though, is the idea of hemocryption. Emery is kidnapped and made work as a courier transporting top-secret information through the city in her blood, encoded in her blood cells. She was chosen because she's one of the rare few who can withstand hemocryption without their body rejecting the information-loaded cells. Hemocryption introduces some very original mechanics to the story, like how Aventine (the courier company) has the encoded cells set to release a toxin after a certain amount of time that builds up in the courier's blood until it induces the 'curdle', incapacitating them if they don't deliver the information (i.e. complete the drop) as promised, and so the couriers need to get their blood filtered and deliver the data as soon as possible ('scrubbing').
I drew some stuff from Implanted because the more I wrote of this review the more attached I grew to the book. At the top is the domed city where the book is set, and at the bottom are the main characters, Emery, Rik, Brita, Tahir and Kat.
What I Liked
1. The idea of hemocryption - what an interesting mechanic! And it was cool how it introduced physical constraints to a world where transferring information would normally just be done digitally, which would be pretty boring to read about. People who really want to keep their secrets safe go for hemocryption so the information can't be hacked while it travels digitally.
2. The wholesome relationships between characters - while this book is a thriller, it still has loads of really wholesome relationships that made me feel all warm and fuzzy. Here are some cute Emery and Rik quotes:
'My world narrows, until there's only room for me and Rik and each step we take. >>Tell me what it's like outside.>> In case I don't get another chance to ask. In case I don't get fully scrubbed in time.'
'>> Haven't thrown up yet.>>
<<That's my girl.<<'
Her relationships with her handler and her friend Brita are super adorable as well. I guess I'm used to seeing everyone be completely treacherous in thrillers, so it was really nice to see this - that even when the world is dangerous, some people can stick by your side.
3(2b?). The romance is lovely. I don't usually care for romance in books, but this was so not insta-love. It was getting to know each other over a long time, growing to trust each other, trouble, hurting each other (but for important reasons, not just being angsty) and proving that they could depend on each other. I don't want to say too much because spoilers, but it was such a wholesome, gradual, compelling friendship-blossoming-into-romance and so I loved reading about it rather than mildly resenting it like I do with a lot of book romances. Also, it ran parallel to the plot rather than taking it over, which was good.
Oh, and no love triangle.
[Seriously, the relationships are so good!]
4. Representation! There were at least two gay couples very casually mentioned (like, 'her wife' or something) and it was cute. Also, Rik is a scientist like me! There was also what seemed like a lot of racial diversity going by the Hispanic-sounding surnames but I imagine that's quite common in Texas.
5. I was impressed by the approach Teffeau took when showing the technology. In a book whose first draft I wrote years ago, I had some similar things (for example, a main character was training to be a 'data curator', and so is Emery, which is probably because like me the author figured that'd be one of the main jobs remaining in an advanced technological society, and people communicate using implants except for some holdouts) so I felt a little scooped, but I have to give it to her - she did figure out how to make it work, how to make the technology powerful yet restrictive enough that it didn't swamp the plot.
For example, you could only use your implant to synch chat with people who accepted your request, and if you wanted to be really really close to someone you could 'calibrate' with them, which seems to let people feel things through you and feel your emotions. Like having your partner in your head at all times to comfort you - way more intimacy than we can get now.
6. The action was really exciting and entertaining. One of the features is a bunch of protests as unrest spreads through the city, and just reading about the chaos and commotion was a lot of fun. It'd make a good movie I think, especially with the structure of the city.
'Rik pales at the agitated crowds, and Charon and Denita exchange a panicked look. But for the first time today, I relax. As a courier, navigating the inevitable New Worth crowds is my bread and butter.
Time to go to work.'
7. Emery's backstory was great and I loved how much agency she took. And the role her handler later played in helping her deal with it [can't say much more because of spoilers!].
"What good's the word of a Canopy brat?"
I try not to react to the dislike radiating off her frame. "I lived down here until I was eighteen."
"Bet you couldn't wait to escape."
"No, I couldn't. The only things we have to sustain ourselves are the implants and thoughts of Emergence. Don't judge me for taking one of the few avenues available to me, and I won't judge you for refusing it."'
8. Some cool writing:
The writing style is an odd mix between utilitarian spec-fic style and the pretty prose of literary fiction, which felt strange at times, but mostly worked and gave us the story without too much interference but with some nice sentences like this one.
''Anticipation twines through me.'
What I Didn't Like
1. For a thriller, the plot was a little unclear. We're pulled through the book by our concern for Emery's safety and her friends mainly, but there are definitely other, larger things unfolding throughout society and intertwined with her story. While those things were interesting to read about (class struggles mainly), the connection between them didn't seem particularly tight and so I wasn't really clear about what they wanted or what would count as 'success' on the large scale. Similarly, there was a hint of government corruption, but it never really became clear how much there was.
I did feel quite nostalgic while reading it - it's the exact sort of genre I was into a few years ago, and it's a really good example of that genre. But I think now I would prefer a more expansive view of what happens to the world rather than just to the character, so I'd have preferred a bit more information on what was actually going on in the rest of the world.
2. The ending wrapped up very, very quickly and tidily. I'm very glad it's not a series (I love a good standalone), but I feel like Teffeau could have written a bit more to explain what happened and not have it end so suddenly.
3. I didn't get quite as into it as I have into my favourite books ever, like Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn and Way of Kings - so, for example, with Sanderson, I was completely crushed and couldn't read on for a while after a main character died, but with this I think I'd be OK - still sad, but able to keep things in proportion. Which is perhaps better(!)
That said, the book still got to me to an extreme degree - one night after reading it I woke up from a nightmare in which I'd been in the world of Implanted and had a huge amount of trouble convincing myself it wasn't real and I was just in my house in the present day. So it can definitely sneak into your dreams!
This was a really fun read. There were definitely some things that left me a little confused, but the reading experience in general was pure fun and the characters were lovely and well-rounded. The more I think about the characters the more I love them, actually. I recommend it if you're into science fiction or futuristic YA.
In short: Entertaining cyberpunk with new ideas and heartwarming character relationships. 4 stars.
This book was provided to me for free in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Netgalley for the eARC, and to Angry Robot Books for having me auto-approved to download and review your stuff!