Regeneration by Stephanie Saulter
Posted August 25, 2015on:
published on Aug 6, 2015
where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Jo Fletcher Books!)
Ya’ll already know i’m a huge fan of Stephanie Saulter’s ®evolution series. She pulls no punches, allows no escape from the way she portrays the “us vs them” attitude and keeps you from looking away for even one second. If you’re looking for a political thrillers with modern relevance, you could do a lot worse than her debut novel, Gemsigns, the first in her ®evolution trilogy. I’ve tried to keep this review spoiler free, so for those of you who are just joining us, go check out my review of Gemsigns and Binary (in fact, after reading my review of Binary, take a nice close look at the blurbs on Regeneration).
Regeneration takes place about ten years after Binary, and life in London is finally halfway decent for the gem population. They’ve integrated into society, norm families are (mostly) no longer afraid to let their children go to school with Gem children, Gem-run businesses are thriving. It’s almost as if the strife of the last 50 years never happened. Almost, but not quite. The old guard doesn’t forget, and the new generation doesn’t quite understand what makes their parents so damn nervous.
The first novel in the series, Gemsigns, was a political powder-keg that revolved around a civil rights movement. It was followed by Binary, in which a society at large makes it’s first attempts to break down the barriers between “us” and “them’. Regeneration is the next step in the process: Acceptance as a complete shift of the status quo, and how people react to it. This novel doesn’t focus on the politics anywhere near as much as the previous two books in the series, yet I couldn’t help but draw parallels to recent political issues that have made real life headlines. It’s scary how close these books come to reality.
Although we get to see plenty of our favorite characters from the previous novels, Regeneration revolves around a type of gem that we didn’t get to know very well – the Gillungs. Genetically bred to be able to breathe and work underwater, the Gillungs have built a village and industrial work space off the Thames. They’ve developed a quantum battery technology using tides and water power that could conceivably make expensive energy a thing of the past. A paradigm changing industry developed and controlled by a population that fifteen years ago didn’t have rights as human beings? It’s pretty easy to see where this is going, and to guess how certain members of the norm population will react to a successful venture being run by a marginalized group. Too many of us view “I can’t see what they’re doing” as “they’re acting secretive for a reason, they must be doing something bad!”. First there is violence, then threats, then a biological scare. So much for acceptance.
This is where Sharon Varsi, who we know from previous novels, gets to take the spotlight. Assigned to lead the investigation, she’s got a few aces up her sleeve. But Regeneration isn’t just a political thriller, or a mystery, or a police procedural (although it is all of those things!). There are also some incredibly tender scenes with Sharon’s family. She’s learning, along with her gem husband Mikal, that children everywhere, no matter their genetics, will always find trouble, and will always exhaust their parents. It was adorable. Every parent everywhere deals with the same things Sharon and Mikal deal with. If you’ve got kids, you’re gonna love this family.
I wish more authors would include family scenes liked the ones Saulter includes. Detectives who are loners and heroes who have no human connections bore me. Sharon and Mikal have a family. So do Gaela and Bal. The stakes are suddenly so much higher when your children are at risk. What wouldn’t you do to protect them?
And speaking of favorite characters from previous novels, and protecting your family, Gabriel is here too. Nearly all grown up, he works as a social media consultant with the Gillungs. He ensures the correct message is projected on their social networks and feeds, and watches the responses. But his involvement with social media is two-fold. Not only is he watching for mentions of the Gillungs, he’s watching for any mention at all of his sister Eve, and shutting it down instantly. No one can find out the secret Eve’s genes carry, and if all goes well, even Eve herself will never learn.
Meanwhile, Zavcka Klist has been freed from prison. Under indeterminate house arrest, everything in her life is controlled. Who she can see, what they are allowed to talk about, even the media she is allowed to consume. But home, her own bed, her own house, her own garden, is preferable to prison, right? She even soon gets used to the visits from Aryel Morningstar. And what could those two possibly have to talk about? Zavcka is miserable, and just wants to be left alone. She doesn’t want to be anyone’s cult hero, she doesn’t want to be involved with Aryel, she just wants to be left the hell alone (sorta like the gems, no?).
I went into Regeneration with sky high expectations. I think I was expecting a gut-punch similar to Gemsigns. While reading Regeneration, I kept waiting for that gut-punch to the feels, and it never came. Was the story compelling? it absolutely was. Where the characters interesting? More than you know. Did I enjoy reading it? oh hell yes. But as much as I was hoping for a crying fest at the end, I’m sure the characters were ready for their trials and tribulations to be over, and for life to just fucking on go on, already. I wanted drama, they wanted normality. Even so, Regeneration didn’t have as much of an emotional impact on me as the previous books in the series.
Although this is the final book in the series, Saulter wisely wrote the ending in such a way that she can return to this world again, should she wish. And I hope she does return to it. I’d like to see how London changes over the next fifty, or even hundred years.