Ticker is about a girl with a mechanical heart, a device she did not want but needed in order to live. Now, in order to keep alive, she needs an upgrade to her "ticker" and the only one who can do that is a mass murderer. It's an interesting dilemma! What would you do if the only way to stay alive was to go with a brilliant, but delusional murder and let him operate on you knowing that he killed dozens in order to perfect the technology? Would you willingly go with him after he kidnapped your family and threatened to bring down the society around you? It's a brilliant premise, but the book could never really deliver on that grand idea.
I personally really enjoy the steampunk genre and that's originally why I wanted to read Mantchev's book, but she just never really gave much of that steampunk atmosphere. She throws out a bunch of terms and devices that are supposed to achieve that atmosphere but they are never described or really shown. So when Mantchev introduces these devices, it's just through a lot of odd names and so it felt like a data dump that had me struggling to get my head around everything and really SEE what this world looked like. I'm sure it was lovely but I never got a good sense of the world or what organizations were what and how the devices functioned for me to really feel like this was a true steampunk genre. My litmus test for this kind of stuff is always Neal Stephenson's book "The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer" and he does a great job of explaining the mechanisms behind the steampunk technology which really made his world feel gritty and alive. Mantchev, unfortunately, never did that.
I could have forgiven the lack of a true steampunk atmosphere if the characters had been better. There are some funny and interesting quips and scenarios but the characters never felt developed enough so their relationships felt forced and unnatural. The main character and her family aren't that likeable despite their tragic history, the main character (Penny) and her best friend (Violet) didn't feel like friends, Violet felt like a punk / baker stereotype, and their business savvy friend Sebastian didn't really seem to have much of a purpose as a friend. Then the relationship between Penny and the head of the elite task force sent to apprehend the creator of Penny's heart really comes out of the blue. They don't act as if they even like each other but with one look and it's love at first sight? Sorry, but I needed more than just that to really feel like they had a thing going on. Plus the ages of these characters are weird. They are supposed to be young adults (between 16 and 20) but they all drink and are in charge of million dollar businesses? Really? Why? That seems like a terrible idea but it never gets explained so whatever I guess...
I am willing to forgive a lot if an author gives me fabulous characters, but without them, it really tanks a book, even if the rest of the story or environment had been flawless. I wanted to love this book and story because the premise sounded intriguing but it wasn't immersive at all, not with the setting or the characters which, ultimately, left me not caring about any of these people or the relationships they had with one another. I still think the premise is cool and the author has great ideas overall, I just wished they had materialized in a way to make good on the promises the book made. Which is why I'd give this book a high 2.5 rather than a full 3.
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