In my last review, I mentioned that one of the positive things about reading the award shortlists was that they encouraged you to read outside of your comfort zone. This is definitely true in the case of the Locus Recommended Reading list. This is the second book that I would never have read if I hadn’t been reading that list. I don’t generally read Children’s fiction or YA. This is especially true if I haven’t heard of the author, or if the author hasn’t written an adult novel. I would have never read this book. I would have missed out on an extremely enjoyable read.
Zen Starling is a Railhead who travels on world crossing trains and steals to survive. He lives with his sister and disturbed mother in a deprived area of the city. One day when he is carrying out a theft at a high end Jewellers, he finds that he is being followed by a young girl and shadowy older figure. He dodges, trying to avoid them both but is eventually caught by one and rescued by another. I won’t say much more because I then get into spoiler territory and I want you to read this book.
This book has all my favourite elements. The work centres on the lives of Railheads that travel these trains often conducting low level crime to survive. It has sentient trains that cross worlds who help those for who they feel sorry and act as graffiti curators keeping the art work that they like while destroying the rest. It has androids, hive minds made out of bugs, and a shadowy government. What’s more it’s set in a really interesting urban, almost cyberpunk landscape. It deals with the discrepancy between the worlds of rich and poor. It looks at identity, asking what does it mean to be me and can we ever become someone else. It asks the questions ‘what does it mean to be human’ and who can we really trust?
This book was a really fun, well written read. It will engross you from the first to last page. The characters are, at once, likeable and nuanced. The world is wonderfully drawn. For me, it was a five star read. It’s too early to say yet but I am betting that it will be one of my favourite books of 2016.