The author provided me an advance copy of this book for my honest review. But even if she hadn’t, I would have bought one, because I’ve enjoyed all her work I’ve read thus far. After the classic space-opera kicks of her Insurrection series, I was eager to see what she’d create with a whole sci-fi novel in Failsafe.
As with her previous project, Deen puts a fresh face on popular genre tropes. Generations after an artificial intelligence called the Interspace took control of Earth, humans survive only in a handful of struggling settlements, caged in a massive country-sized computer system. As part of their uneasy truce with the machine, no one ventures outside the confined habitats…except for our plucky heroine, Sol. Her forays into the network obtain crucial supplies for the communities, but also serve a more personal purpose. Recently diagnosed with epilepsy, Sol is determined to show her family that she’s no invalid. When she meets a mysterious outsider called Echo, his seemingly impossible mission and Sol’s determination elide. The pair joins forces on a dangerous journey to confront the Interspace and free humanity.
Failsafe delivers a fun, fast-paced cyberpunk ride for YA fans. Sol’s likable voice draws readers in from the the story’s lead sentence, mitigating the narrative’s expository sections. I appreciated meeting a heroine with a medical disability. Usually the unique trait that genre fiction protagonists possess is a boon: magical power, lineage steeped in destiny, or some other enviable advantage. Thumbs-up to Deen for taking the more difficult road. It’s clear that she conducted plenty of research on the experience of epilepsy. More importantly, she gives Sol opportunities to define herself beyond the condition.
Echo, who struck me as a hunky younger cousin of Mr. Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, plays an endearing counterpoint to Sol’s snark. His stilted speech and awkward processing of social mores provide the book’s funniest moments. It also makes him a challenging character to develop; I never got to know him as well as I would have liked. Nevertheless, the two make engaging companions for a trip through a Matrix-like world of computer components and hostile drones.
Their adventure packs plenty of action. Deen maintains her reputation for meticulous fight scene choreography and sets her heroes some formidable adversaries. Beneath the metal and melees, however, Failsafe has a tender heart. Halfway through the book, an inevitable love story angle eclipses the sci-fi. It’s well within the typical spectrum for YA, just a little heavy for my taste (I prefer excruciating slow-burn ships to the arguably more realistic rapid-onset teenage romances). Perhaps it seems cloying because of the otherwise limited cast. All the characters besides Echo and Sol are purely functional supporting players without much character depth, so once the romance softens conflict between the protagonists, the plot tension slackens (it’s hard to have high stakes with happy heroes). Readers who relish sweet YA relationships probably won’t mind.
The complete but abrupt ending leaves plenty of room for the sequel Deen has teased on her website. I see room for a prequel as well, chronicling the rise of the Interspace. Failsafe provides an entertaining introduction to a world that, although a bit underdeveloped in places, hints at more complex potential. If you like dystopian love stories, you’ll enjoy the newest title from one of my favorite indie authors.