If you’re looking for a science fiction/dystopian/mystery/thriller with a strong female lead, I recommend Company Town. I can’t say this is a perfect book. It mashed a few too many concepts together for my taste. But it’s a fun, well-written, roller-coaster-ride story. A perfect beach read, you might say.
As the book begins, this Canadian “company town” has just been bought and sold to new owners, and the residents are understandably nervous. The class divide in this world is huge. The wealthy have enhanced every part of their bodies where the poor live at the mercy of dangerous physical jobs like the sex trade, security, and working on the company oil rig. Hwa is a Korean woman who suffers from a disorder that causes seizures as well as disfigurement. She works as a bodyguard to women in the sex trade (which seems to be most of the lower-income women in this town). She’s tough, and I really liked that about her. Her body is a weapon, she stands up for people who can’t defend themselves, and she’s absolutely fearless.
Some books are easy to describe, and this one’s not. Basically, Hwa gets offered a job guarding the company’s youngest son and heir. It’s lucrative, and she actually likes the kid. Things start going wrong when she gets shot during a school security drill and one of the escorts she used to guard is murdered. She sets out to find the murderer.
I liked that this book combined a lot of genres. It’s a Blade-Runner type story, one that you might like even if you don’t love science fiction. It’s set in a fascinating world with a lot of attention to small details like food and dialect and where people live. But what really stands out is the character development. Hwa is struggling with her horrible childhood, selfish mother and the loss of her brother on an oil rig explosion. She also has to struggle to maintain her relationships with her friends while also becoming a company insider. The company demands everything from her, and she’s in danger of losing herself. She’s surrounded by people who probably aren’t what they seem and has to decide who to trust.
I know a lot of people are looking for science fiction that includes strong characters who are women, people of color, or have disabilities. This book has all of that. It has a distinctly female perspective but isn’t heavy-handed or too issue-oriented.
I really liked everything about this book, except by the end I felt like it didn’t all hang together. In that way, it reminded me of David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks. The plot didn’t always make sense and neither did the resolution of the story. I liked how Ashby developed Hwa’s relationship with Joel (the kid) but was less enthused about her relationship with Daniel, her boss. Still, it was still a really fun book to read, one with great world-building and interesting class issues.
I’ve seen it compared to Rachel Bach’s Paradox series, and I would say if you liked that, you should try this book. I think this book had more complexity but the plot didn’t work as well, where Bach is more plot-focused, and also more typical science fiction.
Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley and publisher Tor/Forge. The book was released on May 12, 2016.