“What do you do when the one true thing in your life turns out to be a lie?” This quote turns up about a third of the way through the novel and, for me, really represents Lee’s story from start to finish. It is by no means a happy story, but somehow, you still come away from it feeling hopeful for her. Augustus Rose takes Lee, and us readers, on a wild ride in this genre-defying novel. And it’s a ride a recommend you take.
“The book follows Lee through just over a year in her life. When we meet her, she is a normal-ish 17-year-old high school student, trying to fit in and make friends and stealing/selling drugs to make money for college. But then things take some pretty crazy turns, a betrayal from a “friend” that lands her in juve, abandoned by her family and, eventually, on the run. Homeless and without friends/funds, Lee thinks she finds refuge with a group of others living “underground,” but things are definitely not what they seem. Somehow, Lee gets sucked into the world of a hidden society, founded by a group of fanatical men attempting to decode the secrets of a higher understanding, a mix of science and art and alchemy, left behind by the early 20th century French artist Marcel Duchamp. A society that, for some reason, thinks she holds the key to Duchamp’s secrets and seem willing to do anything (literally anything), or go through anyone, to get their hands on her. And she meets a young artist/computer genius, Tomi, who may or may not be involved with this secret society, that nevertheless manages to insinuate himself deeply into her life (and maybe her heart?).
This was an interesting mix of page turner and slow-moving plot development. I am not actually sure how else to describe it. I was literally always on the edge of my seat, because you never knew when the next development, or devolvement, would happen – it was always fast and sudden. But at the same time, I sometimes felt like some of the details (especially regarding the descriptions on the specifics of “creeping” – the practice of exploring abandoned buildings, “thief training” – for last of a better term, and some of the art and philosophy discussions) dragged on a little. I’ve taken a whole day between finishing the book and writing this review to think about how to categorize this story, but, as I mentioned above, it truly is unclassifiable. I actually wrote to myself at the beginning, probably through the first third or so, that I got a creepy 21st century Oliver Twist sort of vibe. Then, things started to turn a little more mystery/thriller, lots of danger and looking over one’s shoulder at all times. As we start to learn more about the S.A., the secret society tracking Lee, things turn super theoretical and philosophical and treasure hunt-y (with a Dan Brown sort of vibe, but grittier, gothic-ier, crepuscular – in general, way cooler than Dan Brown). And throughout it all, there’s a heavy air of classic tragedy, with everything that Lee deals with, feeling left behind, let down, unable to trust anyone, and struggling to get by without a home or way to make money. Honestly, I have no idea how the author got all that into one book in a way that truly does fit together. Plus, the amount of research, on such a huge variety of topics – from juve to alchemy to hacking/the Darknet to Duchamp, just to name a few – is impressive, really.
A couple things rubbed me the wrong way while reading – there were some times where a person, or persons, took care of or helped Lee to an extent that seemed unrealistic to me (not because I don’t have faith in people, but just based on the logistics of the situations). I felt like Lee was able to accomplish things that bordered on too fantastic/lucky a few too many times (like her return to the Silo at the very end, and what she finds there). At times, as I mentioned earlier, I got a little lost in the descriptions/explanations and things slowed down more than I wanted them too. And, though it is, in fact, totally realistic/possible, it just made me sad how alone Lee was at times.
However, on a larger scale, there were a lot of things I loved about this book. I think Tomi was amazing, as a character in general and also the way his relationship with Lee was written and developed with time (even after things…changed – *no spoilers*). I loved reading (almost) every scene he was in. And though I don’t know anything about it (so this could be a completely false representation of it), the parts related to the Darknet/Subnet, the characters there, and the various roles it played in the story were some of my favorite parts to read. The way that Duchamp and his art, theories, and followers’ devotion were woven through the entire story was done with great skill. The small things, like the way the title fits in, and how each section is named after one of his works, were nice touches. But it’s the overall feel that it most impressive. It’s the way that the book is focused around his art and the theories (whether true or not), spun around them regarding science and alchemy and explanations for the world that connect everything, and was simultaneously written to match. At one point, Duchamp is quoted as saying “…the artist is ‘a mediumistic being who, from the labyrinth beyond time and space, seeks his way out to a clearing.’” And that metaphysical outlook seems exactly the inspiration for the way this story was written. The way the author creates that feel throughout the entirety of this tale was beautiful. In addition, you could really tell how much time and effort went into each of the details in this story. There are no ends left hanging or unexplained side storylines. At all. That alone is evidence of the care the author took. But it’s more than that too: everything is tied up very adroitly. A clean ending to a very messy tale.
Truly this story defies labels and classifications. It seemed to morph as I read, representing many different genres, existing in a very philosophical, experimental dimension (very apt, really, considering what it’s about). Get ready for an atmospheric and immersive reading experience.
Thanks to First to Read and Viking Books for providing this ARC in return for an honest review. And also, coincidental thanks to Muse Monthly for the print copy included in their August box!”