In this debut SF novel, a teenage girl and her empath must escape their totalitarian government to love each other freely.
Neve Hall, 17, is proud to live in the Nation, which emerged generations ago, unified by the Grand Expulsions that exiled non-Nationals. Soon afterward, climate warming caused mass extinctions, but the Nation has prospered thanks to a robust civil service consisting of four classes: Laborers, Soldiers, Enforcers, and Sufferers. The last relieve emotional pain through a combination of personal qualities and technology. When a young, leonine Sufferer (empath) steps in to protect a traitor—reviled in Neve’s patriotic world—from a bloodthirsty mob, she’s impressed by his kindness and courage. Soon afterward, Neve accidentally finds out that her new Sufferer is the same young man, Micah Ward, 19. But the Sufferer-Sieve (non-empath) relationship is anonymous by law. Recognizing Neve from their session, Micah asks her not to confess her discovery until his punishment for helping a traitor is decided. While meeting to discuss the case’s progress, the two fall in love, but Sufferers are not allowed to marry. They also die young, aged prematurely by the pain they take on, and can never quit. When Neve and Micah run afoul of the Nation’s harsh laws, Neve vows to find a way out by journeying north to the New American Republic of the Atlantic, or Nara, which has snow, wild animals, and freedom. But escaping won’t be easy. In this series opener, Marin provides a well-rounded picture of a plausible future with aspects relatable to today, such as the Nation’s anti-immigrant policies and its bleak border wall. The relationship between Neve and Micah goes deeper than physical attraction. Through him, Neve learns of the Nation’s limitations and cruelties, helping her to grow in perspective, and his bravery inspires her to risk all to save him. Meanwhile, Micah finds comfort in Neve’s tenderness. At times, Neve insists on rather pointless and even dangerous self-sacrifices, such as wearing a conspicuous red traitor’s armband when she’s on the run, but this is consistent with a teenager’s melodramatic emotions.
An entertaining and thoughtful futuristic tale.