Lipkin taps into a plausible future where gossip columns push the buzz around wholly artificial celebrities and the rich pay for exclusive virtual experiences. Unfortunately, her human protagonists run toward stereotype: Claude responds to Ash’s growing desire for independence with abusive behavior to maintain control, while human influencer Quinn falls in love with Ash’s image despite knowing nothing about her real self. The “Before” section of the novel, in which Claude’s time at an exclusive academy yields close friends who become his investors, feels like a distraction from the main story arc of Ash’s self-actualization.
Far more delightful is the wondrous tale of Ash’s liberation. Claude’s cat, Devil, and his mouse friend, Bobby, guide Ash to freedom, escaping through a window that Claude never intended to exist and navigating mystical labyrinths. As Ash creates a life for herself in the real world, she struggles to move from her self-diagnosis of amnesia into a real understanding of what it means to be a sentient but constructed person. Ash’s eventual decision to settle down with Claude, who has been presented as her parent, her abuser, and her jailer, is a disempowering if technically happy ending. Readers interested in exploring the construction of the self and reading soft, dreamy prose will find Lipkin’s story enchanting.
Takeaway: This dreamy tale of a constructed woman escaping the bonds of her code will appeal to readers at the intersection of romance and magical realism.
Great for fans of M.T. Anderson’s Feed, Greg Dragon’s Re-Wired.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A-