Members of a knowledge-loving underground fight to bring freedom to the oppressed inhabitants of a dark dystopia.
In the not-too-distant future of Bynum’s debut, the United States has been replaced by the Confederation of the Willing, a North Korea–like police state isolated from the world and firmly under the thumb of a few old men obsessed with maintaining their grip on the reins. They seized power after what they describe as a pandemic wiped out great swathes of the population; they hold onto it via a device called a “slate” implanted in each citizen’s neck. The slate’s main function is to administer punitive shocks to anyone who utters one of the forbidden words on the ever-growing “red list.” Also enforcing the ruling-class will are Blue Coats, thugs employed to rape and murder those who deviate from the authoritarian rules, and monitors, whose extrasensory powers are used by the government to spot subversives. Harper Adams, a powerful psychic who specializes in reading auras, is a monitor, but she also has a conscience. When the government red-lists her daughter’s name (Veracity) and kills her best friend, Harper decides to find and join the fabled resistance. Although many aspects of this totalitarian nightmare are familiar, especially the government’s use of language control to limit thought, Bynum deftly paints the drab, fear-filled existence led by Confederation citizens. Harper is a compelling protagonist humanized by her numerous frailties. She is as doubtful as anyone that she has the strength to succeed at her self-appointed task, and this tension propels the narrative.
In the book’s final quarter, an all-too-simple chain of events leads to an unsatisfying resolution. Until then, this bleak vision of the future feels real and truly chilling.