Rochester’s story is part thriller, part love letter to bicycling, and it’s clear he’s writing from a position of intimate knowledge and passion, as convincing atmosphere and minute detail color every page. He also brings that precision and thoroughness to the presentation of Chinese culture, etiquette, manners, and setting, immersing readers in the atmosphere and imagery along the way. While this verisimilitude is one of the story’s strengths, it also slows down the pacing, threatening to overload the reader with information and at times diminishing the focus on the heart of the narrative, which is the characters.
The information worms subplot, meanwhile, offers a strong hook, though the would-be thieves ultimately prove more of a nuisance than a true threat, with authorial intent breaking through to warn readers of the dangers of IP theft and corporate espionage. Meanwhile, Jed’s emerging connection to Jung-Shan as they navigate the opening stages of a relationship is enjoyable and natural, though there’s a subtle tendency to overly romanticize and exoticize Jeb’s attraction to the Taiwan-born woman, including his thinking of her as “inscrutable,” a term that has often been used by western writers to stereotype Asians. Despite these shortcomings, the overall story is engaging and smoothly told, and will interest cycling enthusiasts and readers fascinated by international business and real-world espionage.
Takeaway: A thriller with a human element, which will appeal to readers who appreciate bicycling and Chinese culture.
Great for fans of: Evan Osnos’s Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China, Dave Eggers’s A Hologram for the King.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: B+