Published: May 1st 2013 by Jo Fletcher Books
Format: Paperback, 320 pages
Genres: Science Fiction
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Humanity stands on the brink. Again.
Surviving the Syndrome meant genetically modifying almost every person on the planet. But norms and gems are different. Gems may have the superpowers that once made them valuable commodities, but they also have more than their share of the disabled, the violent and the psychotic.
After a century of servitude, freedom has come at last for the gems, and not everyone’s happy about it. The gemtechs want to turn them back into property. The godgangs want them dead. The norm majority is scared and suspicious, and doesn’t know what it wants.
Eli Walker is the scientist charged with deciding whether gems are truly human, and as extremists on both sides raise the stakes, the conflict descends into violence. He’s running out of time, and with advanced prototypes on the loose, not everyone is who or what they seem. Torn between the intrigues of ruthless executive Zavcka Klist and brilliant, badly deformed gem leader Aryel Morningstar, Eli finds himself searching for a truth that might stop a war.
Gemsigns is a book I didn’t know I was desperate to read until I started it. I’ve been searching for a thoughtful, well-written, science fiction novel for a while, and this book ticks all the boxes, and more.
Interestingly enough, Gemsigns isn’t about the uprising or revolution of the genetically engineered humans (gems), as is tradition with the sub-genre. The revolution is done and dusted, and the UN has issued a Declaration protecting gems from mistreatment. However, a UN declaration doesn’t automatically translate into rights and freedoms under global legislature, and the novel focusses on the research conducted into whether gems are ‘normal’ and whether they can function productively within a society of normal human beings. This approach is new to me, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reading about the aftermath of the big revolution.
Gemsigns is a slower book – not a thriller in the traditional sense. It takes an issue, the legal status of a specifically genetically engineered population, and examines it over the course of a week. Saulter takes us through the lives of the major players one day at a time, and reveals their world in layers. Each day brings to light new revelations, motivations and secrets, gradually filling in gaps in the reader’s knowledge. For example, we hear a lot about the Declaration before its political importance is fully understood.
There isn’t really a love-story in this book, and I welcomed the change with open arms and heart. The relationships between key characters are fully developed, and different types of interactions – friendships, partnerships, working relationships and rivalries – are explored. A book primarily concerned with the meaning of being human, Gemsigns explores the depth and breadth of human nature delicately and honestly through its cast and their relationships.
The novel is populated with well-developed, relatable characters. They have clearly painted motivations and goals, and believable reactions and ethics. Since the story is told from multiple points of view, but never in first person, the author cleverly allows readers to get a close look at what makes each character tick.
In particular, Galea is interesting because of her unique powers. Eli Walker is amazing as a narrator and main protagonist, because he’s leading an independent study of humanity, and whether gems fit into it. It would be hard for any reader not to love Aryel Morningstar, her charisma and mystery are clearly portrayed on the page. I do have hopes that we will get to know Zavcka Klist a lot better, and explore her plans and machinations, in subsequent books, because she’s incredibly powerful and intelligent, and I feel that Saulter has offered only a glimpse at what she is capable of in this book.
Gemsigns is absolutely amazing, and considering it is Saulter’s début, I do not hesitate to label her as an author to watch. Unmistakable talent and great story-telling mix well in this science-fiction novel, and readers are strongly encouraged not to let it pass them by!