Binary by Stephanie Saulter

December 2, 2014 Reviews 0 ★★★★★

Binary by Stephanie SaulterBinary (®Evolution #2) by Stephanie Saulter
Published: April 3rd 2014 by Jo Fletcher Books
Format: Paperback, 400 pages
Genres: Science Fiction
Source: Publisher
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5 Stars

When confiscated genestock is stolen out of secure government quarantine, DI Sharon Varsi finds herself on the biggest case of her career... chasing down a clever thief, a mysterious hacker, and the threat of new, black market gemtech.

Zavcka Klist, ruthless industrial enforcer, has reinvented herself. Now the head of Bel'Natur, she wants gem celebrity Aryel Morningstar's blessing for the company's revival of infotech – the science that spawned the Syndrome, nearly destroyed mankind, and led to the creation of the gems. With illness in her own family that only a gemtech can cure, Aryel's in no position to refuse.

As the infotech programme inches towards a breakthrough, Sharon’s investigations lead ever closer to the dark heart of Bel'Natur, the secrets of Aryel Morningstar's past... and what Zavcka Klist is really after.

The sequel to Gemsigns has blown me away. Binary is grander and more sophisticated than its predecessor, but lacks none of its heart and brilliance.

This story is set in a near-future world where humans, driven to near extinction by The Syndrome, create a species of genetically modified humans (gems) to be immune to the disease and to serve as second-class citizens to help humanity survive. Gemsigns introduced us to this world after the UN had issued a Declaration protecting gems from mistreatment, where gems and ‘norms’ were trying to figure out how to live as equals. Binary takes the idea further, and explores the role of the gemtechs – the genetic engineering conglomerates that made, and until recently, owned, gems – will play in this new world of equality.

If Gemsigns is a story primarily concerned with what it means to be human, then Binary is as study of humanity itself: its ability to trust and love, the strengths of its friendships and its courage. Its capacity for evil, its greed, and its lust for power. Binary explores these things through its two protagonists, Aryel Morningstar and Zavcka Klist, and a stellar secondary cast of characters, some familiar, and some new.

Aryel and Zavcka were my favourite characters in Gemsigns, the two people I really wanted to know more about, so I am really happy that Binary focusses on them. The two women play off each other brilliantly. Once again Aryel shines in the narrative. Her emotional strength and charisma keeps the other gems together and her analytical mind gives her a solid footing to take on Zavcka, who heads Bel’Natur, one of the largest and most powerful gemtechs still in existence. Zavcka and Aryel have many secrets between them, which are revealed slowly through the clever use of flashbacks, building up to a shocking revelation that will leave readers reeling.

Alongside these two amazing women is a varied cast of characters one can’t help but like. Eli Walker has become this society’s moral compass, Mikal has been elected as a councilman, giving gems representation in the government for the first time, and Sharon Varsi has become a Detective Inspector with the police. Sharon and Mikal are also the first gem-norm couple to get married, and have recently turned their thoughts to having children. Amongst the new characters, I love the charismatic and extremely talented twins Rhys and Gwen the most, but they’re closely followed by Herran, a gem child with an affinity for computers who becomes integral to Zavcka’s plans.

I loved the slight shift in Binary that sees its narrative take more note of romantic relationships than its predecessor. I can’t name a favourite pairing because they are all amazing, but the sweetness of Rhys and Callan cannot be understated.

The cumulative effect of this story being both lighter on world-building and less introverted than Gemsigns is that it is much easier to read. Saulter has also honed her craft and become more adept at explaining the scientific, social, and political ramifications of the science she describes in her book without losing momentum, but the science itself remains complex and compelling. It’s a delicate balancing act where I think Saulter has excelled.

A brilliantly plotted, vividly told tale that encompasses the breath of humanity’s triumphs and its failures, Binary accomplishes what few sequels do in surpassing its predecessor in every way. Although the story feels finished, I’d gladly read 4 or 5 more books set in this world! I highly recommend this series to all fans of science fiction, and am looking forward to reading what the author gives us next.

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