The South Asian Province is split in two. Uplanders lead luxurious lives inside a climate-controlled biodome, dependent on technology and gene therapy to keep them healthy and youthful forever. Outside, the poor and forgotten scrape by with discarded black-market robotics, a society of poverty-stricken cyborgs struggling to survive in slums threatened by rising sea levels, unbreathable air, and deadly superbugs.
Ashiva works for the Red Hand, an underground network of revolutionaries fighting the government, which is run by a merciless computer algorithm that dictates every citizen’s fate. She’s a smuggler with the best robotic arm and cybernetic enhancements the slums can offer, and her cargo includes the most vulnerable of the city’s abandoned children.
When Ashiva crosses paths with the brilliant hacker Riz-Ali, a privileged Uplander who finds himself embroiled in the Red Hand’s dangerous activities, they uncover a horrifying conspiracy that the government will do anything to bury. From armed guardians kidnapping children to massive robots flattening the slums, to a pandemic that threatens to sweep through the city like wildfire, Ashiva and Riz-Ali will have to put aside their differences in order to fight the system and save the communities they love from destruction.
I am always on the lookout to support more desi authors, but it’s very rare that I get to read books by diaspora authors set in South Asia. And finding a genre novel set in and around the subcontinent is a rarity. So, when I first saw the announcement about this book, I can’t describe how excited I was.
This was a fascinating but scary look at a future where another world war has taken place resulting in a sort of nuclear winter, climate change has ravaged the rest of the world and now we are left with limited resources which are in the control of the powerful. The technological advances and increased use of algorithms to make life altering decisions also feels very inevitable. But the most relatable aspect of this world was the fact that in any situation, those in power will always strive for more of it and to keep their control over resources ironclad, sacrificing any of the normal citizens in the process in the false name of greater good.
This book was relentless in its pacing and that’s the first thing I feel once I finished it. The author throws us right in the middle of the proceedings and we are left to figure out what’s happening and who the important players of this story are. But it doesn’t take us long to get deeply involved in it. The stakes are really high and it’s very easy to sympathize with the underdog characters who are fighting a revolution to ensure their survival despite the odds. Some of the action sequences were painful to read about but excellently written, which left a deep impression on me. But sometimes, it did feel like things happened very conveniently and too fast, especially towards the end where characters were able to fight back with very minor obstacles despite being in dire circumstances. However, it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the story. And the author’s liberal use of Hindi/Punjabi words and phrases without going into detailed explanations about them only made me very joyful.
In the end, this was a very interesting sci-fi debut which doesn’t shy away from predicting worst case scenarios of our future when resources dwindle and hard choices will have to be made for the sake of the survival of humankind. It’s themes are universal and relatable, the characters very easy to like and the ending hopeful & intriguing enough that I’m very excited for the sequel.
PS: Thank you to Erewhon Books and Netgalley for providing me with this advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.