“Chipless” is a futuristic dystopian where an event (known as the Pulse) has disrupted society. In response, a group of scientists have made a chip that helps regulate the population’s health, happiness, and even what they see, smell, and taste as all part of a very advanced augmented reality simulator. The chip’s—which is implanted in all citizens of The City at one year of age—primary function is to keep the populace from ever knowing that their world is dying, depleted of its natural resources. In exchange for all the advanced technology and not having to worry about their bodies, the land has been sucked dry. The chip keeps the citizens from knowing the true state of the world and therefore freaking out, or rebelling. Something like that, anyway. It honestly got a little confusing because it’s not like everyone lives in The City, there seem to be a lot of people without a chip (like Amber) so the idea of why The City needed this mind control, what the Pulse did or was, or why Kal was so important, got seriously diminished by the fact that having a chip was just so… benign and there were already so many people living free of The City’s clutches.
Well, that’s it, my friends. This is the last book in the Toccata System trilogy and I am very sad to see this series come to a close, but it was such a nice, quick, little series to race through, too. “Prodigal Storm” introduces us to another of STASIS’ orphans, and this one had to—she thinks—murder the love of her life in order to free both her and her sister from their murderous AI of a mother. In the final book, LJ and Conor have to work together to keep Conor’s father from bringing about the enslavement of all the AI’s once again. But can his wounded son take down his own father? Can Conor and LJ work together given what LJ did to him? Such delicious interpersonal angst awaits in this final book! But unlike the previous two books, “Prodigal Storm” is not a novella, it is technically a full length novel and, while the title may give you the impression it is, it’s also NOT a retelling or reimagining of a classic novel like the other two books were. It has some flavors of Treasure Island, but it’s not really “based” on that classic like the other books were. I kind of missed the retelling aspect though, as Swed has done those so wonderfully in the previous books, but I really enjoyed the interpersonal conflict of this book regardless.
“The First Conception” is a very hard book to read for obvious and not so obvious reasons. The obvious: right in the synopsis we know that this is a revenge story told from the perspective of the female survivor—she was raped and abused sexually and physically her whole childhood and well into her adult years. This “inspired” her to take away the ability to conceive for the whole world. Now, I love a good revenge plot where the MC is less than “good”, especially when it’s over something as heinous as abusing a child so repeatedly. Also, there are your trigger warnings for rape, graphic violence against both women and men, sexual assault against children, spousal abuse, and if topics of infertility are sensitive for you, then this may not be a good fit. Granted, some of these warnings make sense for the genre—it’s billed as a thriller, after all—and while that’s fine, I think this book got to the point of being gratuitous.
AndroDigm Park is a virtual-cyber park where the park and its occupants are all androids, very sophisticated and life-like, but still androids. In this theme park created by the world’s leading android and bio-cybernetic research groups, humans have their dreams analyzed, and that dictates the kind of quest they will go on—from the safety of a secure room while the sleeping participant controls a human replicant. They will feel what the replicant experiences, but since they can’t die, they are allowed to follow their every fantasy. Sounds a bit idyllic, sure, but that means you just KNOW there’s something sinister lurking in the background: who controls the park? What are they really after? Again, sounds really interesting, but all of that only starts coming into play well after the 50% mark of the book, and then we only see and interact with AndroDigm Park for maybe 15%. So what’s the rest of the book, you may ask? It’s groundwork for the main characters.
It’s no secret that I’ve always loved the Phantom of the Opera. I adore tragic love stories and gothic vibes. So really, this review shouldn’t surprise anyone as “Phantom Song” was inspired by the original Phantom of the Opera, and the author does some truly marvelous magic weaving in the original with the far-future world she’s built with the Toccata System. How the original phantom of the opera house is brought back with the ghost, and the Phantom Angel guarding over the city (which, honestly reminded me a bit of Batman but I kind of loved that, too) while also being the masked opera star of Landry City… This story was a perfect homage to a classic while braving its own unique path. I loved getting to know Claire, and seeing her beautiful relationship with Iz, as well as having Henry and Astra return. Plus, this book has creepy AI, murderous cyborgs, and themes of prejudice that apply to many groups and peoples today. Really, what's not to love?
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