Replica: A novel that can’t decide what it is

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Jenna Black’s Replica is a young adult science fiction novel which I read in only one day. Readers who follow my blog might know that when I read a book in a day it means I either loved it or hated it. Well, Replica tries hard, but in the end, it just wasn’t for me.

One of my issues right off the bat is that for a science fiction world, there really isn’t much SciFi in Replica and  Black never gives the reader a timeline to reference. Different aspects of the world suggest different time periods. The story takes place in the Corporate States, a future dystopian version of our own world, and Nathan has a Replica, so we know it’s the future, but many the social structures make me think of the 1800s. Women wear long dresses in public and worry about Victorian era social protocols. Men have more liberty and freedom than women do, though both men and women live on their own at a much younger age (the protagonist, Nadia, and her betrothed are both 16 and 18 respectively and live in their own apartments). They ride in limousines, answer to their parents, and go to school.

There are social classes, the sort you’d expect in a sort of Victorian-esque SciFi world. Society is run by big businesses, marriages among the upper crust are arranged for alliances, and there’s also a very bottom class, the lowest of the low, who live somewhere called “the Basement.” Black really doesn’t spend much time on any social classes between the upper- and lower-most. Perhaps in her world there isn’t a middle class. The clash between upper and lower classes is rather fascinating and involves bribery, secret police, and blackmail. The politics are dirty, and the world Black’s characters play in is just as dirty and polarized. Black highlights all of that really well.

Perhaps my biggest complaint with Replica is regarding the characters themselves. For a young adult novel, they don’t really seem young adult. Nadia is sixteen, her betrothed is eighteen. They each live on their own, go to meetings, get daily schedules for their busy lives printed up for them, do interviews, worry, love and hate. The only time that either of them really seems young adult is when Nadia is in school and she has to deal with the teasing of her fellows. Then her age is apparent, but otherwise their lifestyles and some of the themes that are toyed with (like drugs, for example) are incredibly adult which makes me wonder why this book wasn’t just written for adults. The ages of the protagonists just doesn’t line up with how old they act most of the time. Perhaps in Black’s world children have to grow up faster, but even then the young adult feel was almost completely lost on me except for a few snippets (mostly social situations) here and there.

Replica, in its heart, is a murder mystery. Nathan, Nadia’s future husband, gets murdered and he and Nadia have to find out who murdered him. In the process there is everything you’d expect from any good young adult story — romantic tension, plenty of adventure and action, a secret organization is uncovered, and both Nadia and Nathan find themselves in the middle of it all and way out of their depth. The problem is the predictable plot. [SPOILER here. Highlight if you want to read it]: The suspected murderer won’t come as a surprise for anyone, and Black makes his guilt so obvious that it actually makes the reader think that he must not be guilty. When most of the plot twists take place, readers will discover they anticipated and expected (insert plot twist here) chapters ago. It’s really a buzzkill.

Black’s concept is interesting and the writing is solid but, in the end, the main problem with Replica really isn’t the writing style, the plot, the world-building, or the characters. It’s the fact that this is a novel that can’t decide what it is. Is it science fiction? Dystopian? Urban Fantasy? Victorian? Young Adult? Mystery? It’s such a mix of all of these things that it really isn’t anything special or memorable. Replica doesn’t really have a “place” in the speculative fiction genres. “Genre bending” is usually a positive thing, but Replica isn’t a genre bender, it’s just confused about its own identity. This confusion made it difficult for me to suspend my disbelief enough to enjoy the book.

Publication Date: July 16, 2013 | Age Level: 12 – 18 | Grade Level: 7 and up. REPLICA is the breathtaking new SF novel from JENNA BLACK, author of the Faeriewalker series. Sixteen-year-old Nadia Lake’s marriage has been arranged with the most powerful family in the Corporate States. She lives a life of privilege even if she has to put up with paparazzi tracking her every move, every detail of her private life tabloid fodder. But her future is assured, as long as she can maintain her flawless public image—no easy feat when your betrothed is a notorious playboy. Nathaniel Hayes is the heir to the company that pioneered human replication: a technology that every state and every country in the world would kill to have. Except he’s more interested in sneaking around the seedy underbelly of the state formerly known as New York than he is in learning to run his future company or courting his bride-to-be. She’s not exactly his type…not that he can tell anyone that. But then Nate turns up dead, and Nadia was the last person to see him alive. When the new Nate wakes up in the replication tanks, he knows he must have died, but with a memory that only reaches to his last memory back-up, he doesn’t know what—or rather, who—killed him. Together, Nadia and Nate must discover what really happened without revealing the secrets that those who run their world would kill to protect.

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SARAH CHORN, one of our regular guest reviewers, has been a compulsive reader her whole life, and early on found her reading niche in the fantastic genre of Speculative Fiction. She blames her active imagination for the hobbies that threaten to consume her life. She is a published photographer, world traveler and recent college graduate and mother. Sarah keeps a blog at Bookworm Blues.

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One comment

  1. You raise a fascinating question; if the age of majority is lower, and the characters are that age or above, is it truly “Young adult?” Do we consider Romeo and Juliet a “YA Play?” I’ll have to ponder this.

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