© Chris Wooding, cover art by Craig White.
This is the first young-adult novel I’ve read by Wooding, though he’s written about a dozen of them, including several trilogies. This is a stand-alone work set in a dystopian world. That’s something I generally find unappealing, but this one’s cover synopsis intrigued me, and I’m very glad I tried it.
Orokos is a remote, rocky island that in the distant past was colonized and developed as a haven for a group of humans from somewhere else. Their civilization rose to great heights, developing scientific skills that allowed the building of a high-tech city of marvelous strength and complexity. Their government was a strict one that attempted to create a perfect society by stamping out any resistance, but that led to a stagnant society. Things changed when they built something called the Chaos Engine. It began causing probability storms that would descend upon the island and its inhabitants and change things unpredictably, sometimes in massive ways, sometimes small ones, making life indeed chaotic. Soon the golden age was a distant memory, and Orokos became a place divided into small walled sections; some still held by the wealthy and powerful, some virtual prisons for the poor and sick, some invaded by deadly beings called Revenants, whose very touch meant death or worse.
In this society’s poorest areas, thieves are common. Two of them, a young man and his girl companion, Rail and Moa, struggle to survive. When they find an artifact having “fade technology” from the island’s golden era, Rail decides to keep it, and not turn it over to his thief-mistress. That’s a mistake, and soon Rail and Moa are on the run. Only the fact that the artifact can open any solid wall allows them to escape their pursuers. They fall in with a strange half-human half-machine creature named Vago, who helps them reach a refuge of sorts deep beneath the city, but that’s only the beginning of their strange journey that will ultimately bring them face to face with the Chaos Engine itself, in a cataclysmic conflict that will once again change the island completely.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story. The characters are fresh and believable, the ideas are clever, the world of the story is well thought out and beautifully described. There’s plenty of action and suspense, as the characters careen from one deadly situation to another, but also enough breathiing room along the way so that we can know their hearts and minds. The ending was spectacular and not at all predictable.