I was offered the chance to read this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. So I read the whole thing and here's what I thought:
As I read the first few pages of this book I really thought I was going to love it.
The initial set up created a future world that fascinated me. People were all plugged into the "World-Band," a cross between a virtual reality version of the internet and Big Brother. The World Net constantly speaks in your head ("Your heartbeat is elevated. Experience something nice.") and allows you to make holographic images appear in front of you as you wish (imagine jogging in place but in your mind you're running through a beautiful lush forest). Such a cool concept!
But in every utopia there's an underlying conflict, and this book's seemed to be equally compelling. Apparently mankind's abuse of the environment had reached the critical stage. The leading source of death was skin cancer, known as "The Heat," and because of this people whose skin contained high levels of melatonin were now the ruling class, while those with pale skin were made to be subservient or suffer being cast out into the sunlight to die. A really potentially interesting twist on racial injustice that had so many amazing plot possibilities.
Sounds like it couldn't miss, right? Well...
After the great setup is where it almost seemed like another writer hijacked the story. The main character is Eden, a Caucasian girl (called "Pearls" in this world) whose main aim in life is to Mate with (marry) a dark-skinned ("Coal" - wow, that's pretty offensive considering they're supposed to be the ruling class... Coal? Really? Not Obsidian? Onyx? Something precious? You go with "Pearl" for the lowest class and name the upper class after a dirty rock? You're getting your anti-racism point across... NOT) man and have lots of cute dark babies. (I'm not even going to get into the fact that this author seems to know little to nothing about bi-racial children and how they look) Literally, that's pretty much her goal... for the whole book.
Her father is a brilliant scientist who plans on saving the human race from melanoma by merging their DNA with jaguar, anaconda, and eagle DNA. (No, you read that right, that's the plot. Just go with it.) But Eden screws it all up by telling her Coal boyfriend Jamal about her dad's work in the hopes it will get him to Mate with her. Of course Jamal's a member of some very vague militant group who wants to use the DNA splicing experiment for their own ends (not 100% sure what that is but I'm just going with it.) and he captures the test subjects, so Eden's mean, arrogant, Coal boss Bramford elects to have the experiment performed on him instead. And he then becomes Jaguar Man (don't even laugh, I did not make up this nickname, it's what he's constantly referred to in the story.
At this point Bramford takes Eden and her father to some Mayan jungle camp where Eden spends the entire rest of the book identifying each and every creature that passes along by their full Latin name. (It gets annoying.)
I know we are supposed to love Eden but honestly she is the most useless, clueless, whiny, helpless heroine I've ever encountered. She falls off a cliff, she is attacked by howler monkeys, she wrecks her father's equipment, she is nearly swallowed whole by an anaconda and then gets flung around by its tail... all the while being rescued each time by Jaguar Man, whom she is ridiculously attracted to (she's constantly thinking how much she hates him and yet how deliciously attractive she is... and moans "escape her lips" a LOT.) She begins to refer to herself as a "She-cat" (not making this up). There's lots more but the bottom line is that she wants to be DNA spliced too so she, Bramford, and his little son (yeah, he has a mysterious child whom he wants to Cat-ify, too) can all be a Jaguar family in the jungle.
I'm going to assume they all live happily ever after because I can't bring myself to read the sequel.
I find it hard to believe that the first couple of chapters, with their interesting, innovative, creative future world were just chucked out the window for a very juvenile bad romance plot. The whole Pearl/Coal social dynamic was turned into a reason for Eden to whine about why Jaguar Man wouldn't want her (hello, he has FUR on his face now, are you serious?). It took something that could have been profound and turned it into something profoundly silly. What a wasted opportunity.