This debut novel of environmental collapse intertwines apocalyptic fiction with the multigenerational family epic.
Kingsley Smith lives in a mansion with his mother, Joyce—a personal nurse to a dying oil heiress, the matriarch of the Sutherland family—and his best friend and boyhood crush, Amanda Santos Sutherland. When Kingsley’s recurring headaches are diagnosed as Y chromosome- linked tumors, an illness that has devastated plant and animal populations, humanity begins preparing for a world without sexual reproduction, as every male organism on Earth is dying. During the chaos, Joyce defrauds the Sutherlands of their entire fortune, but not before being raped by Jack, the Sutherland family outcast. Kingsley dies, as do all men; decades later, Amanda is dead and her clone/daughter, Charlotte, is pregnant. Unknown to Charlotte, the baby is an illegal clone of Kingsley, retaining the original’s memories in a newborn’s body and mind: “Kingsley looked around. He didn’t see any babies. ‘What baby?’ he asked. As usual, everyone ignored his question.” The switch was orchestrated by Joyce, enormously wealthy and maniacally obsessed with reviving her dead son. Meanwhile, the world debates whether to engineer new men immune to the disease, or new women capable of asexual reproduction. Joyce and Jack’s daughter, Ray, a brilliant genetic engineer, solves the latter possibility. Charlotte and Kingsley are soon on the run from both women—Joyce wants the baby for herself, while Ray wants the infant dead. The choice of telling a story from a newborn’s point of view—one with incongruously quasi-mystical memory retention—is awkward and unnecessary, especially as Charlotte is a more compelling protagonist (as is Amanda in the first half). Dialogue often slips into stilted exposition of the science, as when a random patient explains in detail that Ray “genetically engineered the deer to reproduce via parthenogenesis, but that’s only half the story.” O’Neal’s book grows more intriguing post-collapse; where it particularly shines is in the history and relationships between the antagonists, a family of multifaceted monsters who are as relatable as they are condemnable.
An uneven dystopian tale, with intriguing ideas undercut by odd plot contrivances, but sporting a strong cast of varied and complex women.