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Shennan and Adin are two minds joined in a single body, one of the rare Bound. Bred and trained as an elite soldier, they protect the Polis’s clandestine First Contact Teams on new worlds. The Bound can be reanimated into a new body after death, and brutal deaths on hostile worlds are a price they willingly pay to protect the Polis. On Polis worlds, violence is long forgotten; equity and justice are universal. But when peaceful citizens transform into savage killers—the Mad—idyllic Polis worlds descend into chaos. The Mad are spreading. The Mad are winning. And the Mad know how to kill the Bound—permanently. Shennan and Adin become the key to destroying the source of the Mad. Thrown into a frantic pursuit from star to star, they will be tried not merely in battle but in their hearts. Will friends abandon them in horror at what they must do? Can they defeat the Mad without becoming a monster?
Despite the vast and diverse world in Sullivan’s adult debut, it is a rare thing to be Bound, to have two independent minds in one body; it is rare even for the Keld, a species of soldiers who are already an anomaly because they can kill. Adin and Shennan are the Keld’s star asset due to their bound nature: when they die, they’re reanimated, and, while the one that died recovers, the other takes over their body. Consequently, Adin and Shennan are destined to protect the Polis, people that have conformed to a system, the Consensus, that biologically instills morality in them. The Polis know no violence. So, when some Polis start randomly turning into the Mad and carrying out interplanetary terror attacks, Adin and Shennan are duty-bound to eradicate the Mad at all costs. This will require their iron will, their dedication, and, most importantly, their utilitarianism. In the end, will it be the Mad who rip away what Adin and Shennan hold dear, or will it be their own actions?

Adin and Shennan work on a series of related but smaller missions that run the gamut of security to spy work, creating more of a slow burn than a thrill ride. This planet-hopping military mission spree is sure to tickle any intellectual’s brain stem. From how Adin’s and Shennan’s dual nature affects their life and abilities, to themes of colonization, social manipulation, and evolution, there’s a lot to chew on. A lot of this is explained through scientific jargon. While this might titillate some, it may dull the emotional impact for others. Additionally, action scenes focus slightly more on strategy than emotion or sensory detail, giving the harrowing bouts with death an almost video-game quality. Sometimes, events aren’t told as they occur and are instead casually revealed after, which can lead to some confusion and detachment.

But readers will be pulled right past those potential barriers into Sullivan’s frank and realistic portrayals of trauma and duty. The novel explores the hard calls people make to protect the whole, even if they have to sacrifice their minds, bodies, and relationships. And this follows through right to the end: there are no easy answers, no easy-to-swallow morals to find here. Adin and Shennan are put through the wringer and go back for more. They’re complicated and broken, torn between peace and violence’s role in it. Their relationships are messy as well, and they must do unspeakable things for the same people who reject them for it. This thought-provoking military sci-fi demands, and rewards, anyone’s full attention.

Takeaway: Somewhat heady but pulling no emotional punches, this sci-fi space mission will prompt readers to ponder big moral questions.

Great for fans of: John Steakley’s Armor, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: A