[I received a copy of this book through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.]
Good premise here—a future where, as soon as people turn 15, they are charged for every word they say, and other forms of communication such as many gestures. Pretty much a legal nightmare, in which lawyers have all the power, where people can slap each other with instant lawsuits, and where everything is monitored through cuffs and eye implants, all connected to the ever present Wi-Fi.
In general, I enjoyed reading about this world, for all its chilling technology that may not be far off the corner (such as the Black Mirror-esque “Blocking” tech, preventing people from seeing specific faces, for instance). It was a little hard to follow at times, but it nevertheless made it for a quite unique setting.
I had more trouble with the characters, unfortunately. Speth, especially, struck me as overall rather dumb.While her silence stemmed from a shocking event, it became apparent very quickly that there would be a price to pay—in many ways, literally, as her family gets slapped with lawsuits, her sister is prevented from working, and so on. Yet it took her an extraordinary long while to finally figure out what to do about it all, instead of remaining mute and passive for most of the story. Not passive as in not going out and not doing anything at all, but passive when it came to thinking hard and making decisions about her silence… which, in the meantime, led to several problematic events, one of those being so scarring that I can’t reconcile the shock of it with someone standing her ground for… no reason? Had she been truly convinced of her role, of the importance of her silence, and trying to achieve something meaningful, this sacrifice could’ve been somewhat “understandable”, plot-wise; the way she still behaved at that point (some 60-65% in…), it just made for cruel and unneeded scene.
As another example, one of the characters, at some point, tries to communicate with her in creative ways, pointing at words in a book, and she does… nothing? There was no mention anywhere of people being unable to read, and she can read the warnings on her cuff well enough, so, I don’t know, perhaps pointing at specific words and letting the other character do the math would’ve helped her communicate, and been the smart thing to do. Because the deep issue here is that she doesn’t communicate. At all. She can afford a few shrugs, but conveying everything through just that and glances is, in general, quite difficult, and this leads to exactly the kind of plot twist I mentioned above, because she can only make other people follow her while racking their brains to try and understand what exactly she’s trying to do.
And so, Speth keeps making one poor decision after the other. And when she finally wakes up, there’s been so much destruction in her wake that it’s difficult to suddenly empathise with her.
(Interestingly enough, throughout the whole story, sign language is never mentioned. Are there no hard-hearing/deaf people in this world? Was it banned, as subsversive communication method? Or is it charged, like nodding one’s head. This would’ve made for a formidable loophole.)
As far as characters go, at least I did enjoy the three Product Placers. Although they weren’t too developed, they and their missions were interesting and fun to read about.
Conclusion: Interesting setting, stupid main character. I do have an ARC of the second book, though, so I’ll still give it a chance.