I was sort of saving my review of Jill Williamson‘s latest, the science fiction novel Replication (Zondervan) until the CSFF tour I hope we have for the book. But that’s the deal. Our administrators haven’t set which books we’ll feature in the six or so months after April, so it’s presumptuous of me to assume there will be a tour. In the meantime, people need to know about this book!
For as long as I’ve known her (about five years), Jill has said she writes young adult fiction. (For an excellent article discussing the properties of young adult and middle grade fiction, see “Are You Writing MG or YA?” by Sally Apokedak over at Novel Rocket). However Jill’s fantasy series, Blood of Kings, published by Marcher Lord Press, came out as adult fiction. Now with her new release, the focus is again on teens.
The Story. Martyr, to his friends, J:3:3 to those who run experiments at Jason Farms, the underground facility where he lives–the male protagonist understands his purpose. He is making it possible for those on the outside to survive, and when he turns eighteen in two short weeks, he will expire.
Abby Goyer has a different problem. After her mother’s death from cancer, her father moves her to Alaska so he can begin work at a private science lab. Adjusting to the more rural environment and to a new school isn’t easy for Abby, especially when the Big Man On Campus, JD Kane, begins giving her far more attention than she’s comfortable with.
When the unthinkable happens and she’s teamed up with him for a science project, she turns to the one friend she’s made, Kylee Scott, to be a buffer between them during an after-school planning session at her house.
Imagine her surprise when JD turns up in her bedroom moments after her dad sends her school companions away. Or is it JD?
And so the adventure begins — one that involves solving a missing person’s cold case, puts Abby’s life and her father’s life in jeopardy, and forces Martyr to make some hard choices.
Strengths. Jill writes page-turners. That’s the simple truth. Her stories are compelling and push you to keep reading. As a writer, I have asked myself how she manages to do it. The main factor, I think, is her ability to create characters the reader cares about early on.
In the case of Replication, she created two such characters.
Martyr got his nickname from his friends because he sticks up for the weaker members of their group, protecting them from the stronger ones who would bully them. He’s selfless, noble, curious, kind, inquisitive — thoroughly believable, with a voice that is consistent with someone who has had little contact with the outside world.
Abby is also a character who creates a connection with the reader. She lost her mother, has to move away from her friends, struggles with feeling like an outsider, and yet she makes good choices and doesn’t sacrifice her values for peer approval. She’s smart and willing to extend herself for others.
I want to see them both succeed.
This book is also unpredictable. The plot surprises and delights with the unexpected. In addition, it has meaningful themes, especially as Martyr learns for the first time in a very natural, believable way, arising from the story events, who God is and how someone can know Him personally.
Another plus is that this story deals with a hotbed scientific topic which you can easily guess — cloning. It’s a topic Christians need to get ahead of and discuss because of the ethical and moral implications. While Replication is not an issue book, it offers the reader an introduction to the topic and quite naturally questions about the appropriateness of human cloning arise.
Weaknesses.While I thoroughly enjoyed this story, I thought there were some minor plot holes and some questionable actions that seemed a little unrealistic.
The end seemed a little rushed to me, and I couldn’t help but wonder if Jill had a hard time scaling the story down to three hundred pages (her Blood of Kings books run somewhere around six hundred pages each).
Towards the middle, the story seemed to lose a lot of its science fiction feel, and took on an action/adventure air. I, who say I don’t really like science fiction, preferred the parts of the story that were more oriented to the science. (I realize I’m being somewhat circumspect here. I don’t want to give any spoilers. There are surprises that you really need to discover on your own.)
Recommendation. Unequivocally I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a page-turner. It’s not hard science fiction. You might even call it near-near future because the story had a very contemporary feel. In my opinion, that makes it more accessible to all readers, though niche science fictionites might be disappointed that there aren’t loads of details about experiments and DNA and such.
I’d also say the book is not one only teens will enjoy. They will, but adults who have teens or who taught teens or who were teens can enjoy it too.
In short, this is a book readers will want to get a hold of. I suggest you do so ASAP!
Disclaimer posted in compliance with FAA regulations: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.