Nirvana by J.R. Stewart
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Before you think “haven’t I seen this review before” this is actually a new review of a revised version of Nirvana. I initially received an advance copy from NetGalley around a month or so ago and while I thought the idea was good it wasn’t quite working for me (and based on reviews a lot of other people too).
However the author has taken a lot of this feedback on board and the book has had a major re write. I was contacted by the publisher and asked if I would mind reading the new version to see what I thought. This is the first time I’ve re read a book that’s had a major re write and I have to say it was a strange experience. The story is almost unrecognizable from the previous version and while I think it is much improved I couldn’t help comparing to the previous version.
The essential story is the same. It’s set in 2080 following an event known as the Extinction where the bees disappeared resulting in the loss of crops, livestock and pretty much all life. Those that are left live in a society controlled by the major corporation Hexagon. They keep the populace subdued through both fear and control of virtual reality which, in such a destroyed world, is the only form of entertainment and escape.
Larissa Kenders is one of the operators of the virtual reality system and as her fiancee Andrew is one of the programmers she knows all to well that all is not as it seems. The system is used to monitor those who use it and the wrong thoughts or actions mean disappearing never to be seen again. With her background as a punk rocker and history of rebellion against authority this doesn’t sit well with her and she tries to help where she can.
Meanwhile Andrew seems worried about something and has made a major discovery in his work which he isn’t telling her about. Then one morning he disappears and his research and work disappears with him. Kenders is told he’s dead and treated by the authorities as a suspect in the disappearance of his work. However when Andrew begins to appear to her in virtual reality she begins to think he may be alive and trying to get a message to her. Is he really alive though or is she just seeing what she wants to believe? If he is alive she has to find a way to reach him but who if anyone can she trust?
I thought this was an interesting take on the young adult dystopian. I loved how it used the technology and virtual worlds to raise the question of what is reality and what is virtual and how do you tell the difference. It also raises the issue if something seems convincing does it matter if it isn’t actually real? I’m kind of fascinated as well by the idea of big corporations gaining so much power they can overthrow a government. I have to admit that I find it kind of scary how much companies seem to know about us and the amount of information that’s stored out there in the inter-web. It seems very plausible that this type of society could come about in the future.
In terms of the characters, I liked Kenders for the most part. She’s intelligent, caring and fights for what she believes in. She has a bit of a troubled past but seems to be fairly well balanced and strong despite this. Andrew I wasn’t too sure about. Possibly he was just a bit quiet and distant for me to connect to but I didn’t feel like I got much sense of him as a person. Most of the time it seemed as if he was focused on his work and ignored everything else around him. I think it’s for that reason that I wasn’t totally sold on their relationship. There didn’t seem to be any real spark between them. I felt that it made it difficult to get behind Kenders in her quest to find him which was probably the main point of the story.
The character I did like and was really rooting for was Kenders friend from childhood Serge, although I don’t think we got to see enough of him in this version. He was a bit of a conflicted character, in love with Kenders and willing to do almost anything for her but also with everything to lose if she gets to Andrew and the truth. I feel like more could have been made of him as a character but his part was cut a little short. I also liked ex band mate Lexie. She was pretty wild and willing to go to any lengths to achieve her goal. I’m hoping we get to see more of her in future stories.
Overall, I thought the pacing of the story was good and there’s a lot more action and dialogue in the revised version. I would have liked a bit more depth in places as I didn’t really get the feels but it was good to find a book with a bit more originality and realism than the usual YA dystopian. I’m not entirely sure I liked the ending but I am a little curious about what will happen next.