Stephanie Saulter – Regeneration

stephaniesaulter-regenerationThe gillungs – genetically modified, waterbreathing humans – are thriving. They’ve pioneered new aquatic industries, and their high-efficiency quantum battery technology coupled to tidal turbines in the Thames estuary looks set to revolutionise the energy industry. But as demand grows, so does fear of what their newfound power might mean.

Then a biohazard scare at Sinkat, their London headquarters, fuels the opposition and threatens to derail the gillungs’ progress. Was it an accident born of overconfidence, or was it sabotage?

DS Sharon Varsi has her suspicions, and Gabriel sees parallels in the propaganda war he’s trying to manage: politicians and big business have stakes in this game too. And now there is a new threat: Zavcka Klist is out of prison. With powerful new followers and nothing to lose, she’s out to reclaim everything they took from her.

Stephanie Saulter’s ®evolution series has been one of my favourite series published in the past two years. I was blown away by her debut Gemsigns and thought the follow-up Binary was even more fabulous. So my expectations for the final book in the series Regeneration were sky high. I was wondering how Saulter would end her series and whether she’d stick the landing and bring it home in style. I shouldn’t have worried, because spoiler for the rest of the review: I loved it. As this is the concluding book of a trilogy, there will be spoilers for the previous two books, so consider yourself warned on that front. 

If the central question to Gemsigns was “What makes us human?” and that of Binary was “Where do we draw the line?” then the central question to Regeneration is “What happens when the status quo is challenged?”. The gems have found their place in society and the gillungs, the gems who were adapted to amphibian life, have created a vibrant community on the banks of the Thames; not just managing to build their own way of life, but developing a revolutionary way to store energy that will cause a giant shift in the power balance of the energy market. It is here that the main conflict of the story has its roots, because the establishment doesn’t want to let go of its power and privilege that easily. Saulter explores privilege from the point of view of those that lack it and shows lengths the establishment will go to in order to retain it.

Facing the establishment are most of the characters the reader has previously come to know and love. In fact, several Gemsigns characters missing from Binary return to the page in Regeneration, Most notably Gabriel, Gaela and Bal. When we last saw him, Gabriel was an adorable, but precocious child; in this book he’s become a young adult, whose innate talents have put him in a position with huge responsibilities, perhaps more than should be asked of someone his age. But then Gabriel has always been extraordinary and he has had to learn to cope with prejudice from all fronts – both norm and gem alike – due to his telepathy. Saulter makes this explicit in the way people keep checking whether Gabriel is wearing his headband, which serves as a hands-free communication device, but in his case also blocks his ability to read others’ thoughts. They don’t just check whether he’s wearing it, but also that he has it turned on. What most people don’t realise, is that Gabriel wears his headband not just to protect their privacy, but to protect himself from their uncensored thoughts. I loved how Saulter played with this and how she has Gabriel use his powers in different situations. Gabriel’s powers aren’t just scary or useful, they are also used as comic relief in the interactions he has with his little sister Eve. When Eve wants to annoy Gabriel, she’ll try to provoke a reaction from him by thinking “bad” thoughts at him, which cracked me up, as it is such a sibling thing to do.

But Gabriel’s family unit isn’t the only one we get to check in with. We see how Mikal and Sharon Varsi have moved up the professional ladder and have created a wonderful family. We learn that Aryel and Eli have taken Herran’s hint and are a loving and devoted couple, as are Rhys and Callan. I loved seeing Herran again as he was my favourite character from the previous book. Of course there are also wonderful new people to meet, such as Agwé, Gabriel’s best friend and colleague, and her foster parents Pilan and Lapsa. And on the more adversarial side, Saulter created some fascinating antagonists in Moira Charles and Abraham Mitford (and isn’t that just a name with delicious connotations?), not to mention the biggest and baddest adversary of all of them, Zavcka Klist. Klist is an amazing character. I loved her story arc and the way she is taken somewhat by surprise by her cult-following when she is released. Saulter’s development of Klist character is masterful, though hard to discuss without creating spoilers for the plot. Just believe me when I tell you she is brilliant.

Regeneration’s plot is a combination of political thriller, police procedural, and a House-style medical mystery all wrapped up in a race-against-the-clock conspiracy bow. The story unfolds over a very limited amount of time, but there is so much going on that the book flies past. This is aided by a super-smooth writing style that makes you gobble up pages without realising time is passing. As with the previous two books Saulter switches between a limited number of main third-person omniscient points of view, with several occasional points of view interspersed. I love the way she builds up her narrative , sometimes showing us the same situation from different viewpoints and sometimes deliberately withholding information from both the reader and specific characters. It makes for gripping reading and a very immersive experience.

Regeneration is a fantastic finale to one of the best SF series of the past five years. In my opinion, the ®evolution series is one of the most under-appreciated series out there. While the tech and other SFnal elements of the future Saulter created are fascinating and original, the true heart of the series is found in its characters and what they say about humanity and its society, past, current and future. I’ve been singing this series praises far and wide and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Do yourself a favour and go and read Gemsigns, Binary, and Regeneration as soon as you can, just to see how fantastic SF can be.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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