A lonely, motherless girl with a clockwork heart risks everything to create a mechanical friend in a futuristic Ireland where computers are forbidden.
After an ill-defined technological crisis known as the Turn caused a devastating epidemic, Ireland was divided into Pale and Pasture—sick and well—and now spurns all but the most necessary technology. The citizens of the Pale are all missing parts, but prostheses are "augmentations" rather than disadvantages. Gay and gender-fluid characters appear without remark. Dark-haired, brown-skinned Nell Starling-Crane, whose father fashions the sophisticated prostheses, is nevertheless set apart; she's the only citizen with a mechanical heart, the loud ticking of which makes her self-conscious. Contributing to adult society is crucial for avoiding a life in stonework or marriage, but despite a looming project deadline, Nell has no ideas…until she decides to build a sentient android companion from ancient computer parts, defying the law against artificial intelligence. Griffin explores the ethical quandaries of progress, love, class, and ambition in language as ornate as the characters' decorated prostheses; sometimes a phrase catches the eye, and sometimes the heavy mix of metaphors almost camouflages the story underneath. Chapters alternate between third-person accounts of Nell's exploits and second-person observations of Nell's past and present. The observer is not always clear, which makes the perspective shifts disorienting. Nevertheless, the plot is compelling, full of secrets, blackmail, and betrayals that resolve at just the right moments—convenient, yes, but satisfying.
Though occasionally uneven, this poetic, Frankenstein-esque tale forms a page-turning whole. (Science fiction. 13 & up)