Maxwell Neely-Cohen’s first novel is an exploration of what it means to grow up in an age where information travels faster than wisdom, and the people who built the system find themselves hopelessly outclassed by those who grew up in it. Layered with a storyline ramping up to the apocalypse, we inhabit four youths who will change the perception of the world for themselves and everyone in their path.
The story is character driven, viewed through the lenses of the four children we follow: Steven, son of a former spy and agent of death;Molly, raised by a doomsday prepper and learning from those who will teach her to fight;Efram, a power player who can turn an institution’s rules and weaknesses against it; and Chloe, a teenage power broker who molds, shapes, and destroys the lives of her classmates through knowledge and intimidation. We meet the first three before they know themselves, and Chloe already nearing the height of her power, journeying along with them through the years that transform them and the events that will leave their mark.
The underlying trait of all of these kids is their evaluation of others, using people for their own purposes without much of an emotional connection. Each of these four, in varying ways, sees others as resources in a way, tools to be used to further outfit their own lives, almost as if they see the world as it were Animal Crossing, and each person they meet only important for the potential boon they can add to their lives or detract from those who impede it. There are points where it seems that the characters end up being passengers through their own lives, but three-quarters of the way through the novel is a revelatory statement that seems to codify and electrify the action and makes the last 100 pages fly by as certain pieces come together.
There are lots of stories on how people survive the apocalypse, but this is one that shows how people survive just getting to it. There are times where the author’s voice comes through clearly, mostly in the sections that reflect his life and interest in DJ-ing, but also in the most primal moments of the novel. There’s a steady approach to this work that conveys inevitability, the relentless march of time and action that can only end in one place.
Folks who dig the more current versions of Shadowrun or Grossman’s The Magicians with a less magical cant will enjoy this debut novel.