Scientific wunderkind Tyler Cipriani, son of the famous Aiden Cipriani, doesn’t like being manipulated by his father; he had enough of that as a child when he was a test subject for his father’s studies. He dislikes it so much that in spite of his considerable talents, he avoids working much on his own. As his mother later explains, “[T]he problem is…you want to be a rebel, but you have nothing to rebel against.” So when his dad approaches him about helping Quantum Bay Labs win the Xprize for artificial intelligence, Tyler isn’t remotely interested—until he meets the lab’s latest hire, Danny Searle. Intelligent, funny and mysterious, the beautiful bookkeeper immediately captures Tyler’s attention with her magical—both literally and figuratively—worldview. Allowing his father to manipulate him once more, Tyler signs on to help the team with Prometheus, their artificial intelligence project. Though largely an idea-driven novel, McWilliams’ work features some magnificent characters that are equal parts hyperintelligent and approachable. Scientific questions of consciousness, free will and reality are addressed in clever ways, as when Aiden—traveling down a rabbit hole of a dinner discussion that is so pleasant and thought-provoking readers might wish these were real people they could spend time with—reminds his guests that, “just because a fish discovers he lives in a fish tank, doesn’t mean he no longer has to swim.” What Danny brings to the table is a different perspective: “Why can’t you just admit that science is the study of a magical world that just happens to be consistent and logical?” But it’s not just at the intersection of science and magic that McWilliams’ talent shines; it’s how he’s able to align those worldviews to build on each other as Danny—and, much to Tyler’s discomfort, her ex-boyfriend, David, a professional magician who shows up later—contributes to the programming project by inspiring new ideas in the scientists. Danny retains her mystery until, just before the project’s deadline, a car crash puts her in a coma and her secrets are revealed. The first two-thirds of the novel are supremely excellent, but the final third goes up in smoke. The tone changes, the charm disappears, and the poorly explored ending comes from too far afield to be anything but disappointing despite McWilliams’ last-ditch efforts to resurrect the otherwise outstanding story.
A beautiful start to a tale of love, science and magic; it’s a shame the magic doesn’t last.