We read and review for the love and joy of books.
After the fourth World War, 15% of the population is reclassified as "Demoted". Under the guise of ensuring peace due to overpopulation and competition over resources, the powers decide to enslave the underperforming segment of society. Subjected to sterilization and reconditioning, they are then placed in various positions in society according to ability and desirability.
The primary point of view is first person narrative from a rescued torture slave, Sascha with sporadic, short shifts to his master Cash. Contrary to what one would expect it is oddly detached and there is a significant exposition to establish the characters and setting.
End of first chapter, it jumps backwards to their first meeting a month ago. Which heralds a trend, the seesawing back and forth in time is distracting. Combined with the irregular POV switches it slows the story down as each flashback in time features copious amounts of exposition about how Sascha got where he is. Frankly, Sascha's choices were a bit too much, and made me roll my eyes.
The argument why demoting has preserved "Peace" is not made, merely stated. This is an assumed tenet of the construct of the world. There is pontificating about how the only difference between Demoted and everyone else was the degradation. And the system is unjust--Look at Sascha, if he can fall through the cracks or jump into them as the case maybe, then the premise of Demoted culling the inferior into service positions to preserve resources for the better and brighter is invalid.
While the story line is basic, it was one that interested me. Unfortunately, it's told very drily and evoking little emotion or empathy, like reportage, which was so incongruent for a first person narrative, which should make one feel like they are there. Sascha's disassociation led to this reader's ambivalence.
Cash and Sascha have understandably different views on the Demoted system. They keep having intersections of synergy, but the years have not been kind to Sascha and Cash is impatient. There is failure to communicate, and as the master, it lies solely on Cash's shoulders. Sascha has no rights, yet I felt like the story was trying to balance the blame at times. Again, eye roll.
This is not a freestanding book. Multiple story lines, not just an overarching series arc is left unresolved. Sascha and Cash are unresolved. A family feud is still in play. While I don't mind threads being left open for subsequent books, the lack of closure was disappointing.
I understand the author's argument that people are trapped in their respective positions, and the Demoted system feeds the megalomaniacs and enslaves everyone who disagrees--slave and free person alike. A reasonable argument, but the characters disassociated from each other made this a less than rewarding read. The dry recanting of events by Sascha of the traumas he endured during his reconditioning process kept me from empathizing with him. I don't need torture, but I need to see how he feels. Finally, the timeline jumping back and forth kept breaking the narrative and my reading continuity. Yes, this is a pet peeve of mine, others might not care, but flashbacks and flashforwards for no discernible reason is an inelegant way to tie two timeframes together.
Overall, I loved the premise more than the execution.
I’ve had sex that I wanted, I’ve had sex that I didn’t want, and I’ve been raped, and there’s a difference between all three, and I know that he’s about to do the third thing to me.