Company Town

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To my regret, it’s been a long while since I last posted. I’ve been very busy, as I now have three jobs so I’m always on the go! (Two bookstores, and a paper store. Living the dream.) Still, things have settled a bit and I’m getting into a routine so I’m back now. I’m hoping to be able to get back to more regular posts once more, so stay tuned.

After being on hold at the library for more than a month, I’ve finally received more of this year’s Canada Reads finalists. It’s with great pleasure that I bring you today’s review.

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Company Town was the Canada Reads candidate I was most eager to read this year. I love sci-fi, and especially more speculative stuff. Throw in the fact that Madeline Ashby is also a ‘strategic foresight consultant’, and I was chomping at the bit to get to this title.

I raced through this novel at lightning speed, reading whenever I could squeeze in the time.

The narrative follows Go Jung-Hwa, a young woman living and working in New Arcadia – an oil rig city off the coast of Newfoundland. As an organic human in a society where most choose to augment themselves with machines and drugs, she is a rarity. She is also ‘stained’ by a birthmark that spans an entire side of her body, due to her rare seizure disorder.

Hwa works as a bodyguard for the United Sex Workers of Canada union members at the opening of the book. That right there made me fall in love with this story.

The legalization of sex work has been a hot button issue in Canada recently, especially in light of the Bedford case (2009-2013). Hwa’s friends, students, and mother are all sex workers. It was amazing to read about sex work in this context, as it was neither vilified nor exalted. The reader does get to see the different attitudes people hold towards the profession, which gives a lot of insight into those characters.

When New Arcadia is bought by the Lynch company, Hwa is thrust into a new corporate position. As she struggles to adjust to her new routine, her friends begin to die gruesomely. With a burning need to bring the killer to justice, Hwa uses all of the resources at her disposal and risks her own safety to see it done.

Reading about such a self-made and competent woman was brilliant. She can take down scary drugged up dudes twice her size, but still isn’t a paragon of perfection. At times she lacks confidence, which is revealed to be a rather serious flaw of hers. Her relationships with others are intricate and genuine. Even shunned by her loved ones, she works her hardest to do what she believes is the right thing. Even pushing others away, she recognizes that she could be pulling them closer. The romance that builds slowly in the novel didn’t feel out of place at all, despite the murder and mayhem sandwiching it.

Though set in the future, Company Town feels like it isn’t that far off from our current state of affairs. Clean energy solutions are still a thing of dreams and prototypes. Women are still treated in ways that should make you weep – illustrated by some disturbing conversations, and more graphic threats of rape, as well as physical violence. Corporations are entities whose machinations affect many lives, often for the worse. These things really helped ground this book for me – it seemed like a plausible situation, even when the technology came into play.

Cue cybernetic enhancement, self-replicating nanobots, artificial intelligence, and crossing timelines.

Boom.

These things were so perfectly entrenched in the world that Ashby created that I totally believed them. Though it got a bit confusing near the end, there was never that moment you sometimes get in sci-fi books when you’ve read some clearly bogus pseudoscience and it catapults you out of the story before you can roll your eyes. I stayed entrenched in the book the whole way through, and after re-reading a specific section things clicked for me and I knew exactly what was going on.

This was my favourite Canada Reads book so far, and I only have two left to go now. I certainly intend to pick up a copy of Company Town, and Madeline Ashby’s other books. And I can always hope that as a Toronto native, she visits my bookstore one day so that I can tell her in person how much I loved this. Hopers gotta hope.

Have you picked up Company Town yet? Did you love it? Hate it? Let me know in the comments below!

Archangel

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With a lot on my plate lately, it was sort of inevitable that I would fall into my comfort zone and re-read an old favourite rather than tackle the list of new to-reads that I have right now. Sometimes, you just need a bit of a mental break – and nothing but revisiting a world discovered ages ago will do.

However, since I’ve never written a review for this book, I thought it was about time.

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I discovered Archangel at a jumble sale at which you could fill bags and boxes with books for a pittance, and it was ages later that I read it. But in the tumble of abandoned classics, neglected YA, and trashy magazines, it stood out – and firmly cemented itself as a favourite.

Let me preface this by saying that I’m not a religious person. I have no overt complaints or problems with the institution of religion, but it hasn’t particularly called to me as an adult, nor have I sought it out.

Archangel then, may seem like a strange favourite.

It’s set on a world called Samaria, in which angels have holds in each region, mingle and mate with humans, and intercede with God on their behalf on issues of weather, health, and faith. It follows two main characters: Gabriel, who is slated to become the next Archangel (leader of the angel host), and Rachel, the woman who is chosen by God to become his wife, and thus, the next Angelica.

Gabriel is a stubborn man, determined that his term as Archangel will bring many changes for the better. Rachel is perhaps even more stubborn, though also more prideful, and much of her story is of trying to find her place and come to terms with the new life that she is expected to lead. They’re often frustrating characters to read about, but I was so emotionally invested in their story that I would plough through even when discontent.

This book is a simple read. It’s filled with faith, and it’s also filled with singing. Music is a central theme in the story simply because its how the characters communicate with God. The descriptions of music made me wish that I was more gifted with melodies, and it was easy to hear the lovely songs in my head as I was reading.

Though the story is that of two people brought together to wed, it isn’t precisely a love story. Rather, it’s a tale of pride, stubbornness, evil, and curiosity. The cast of characters is diverse, with various personalities coming together to form a very believable tapestry – even considering that some are angels.

Because I have read several other books in the series, I know that the stories of some are mentioned in passing in the narrative, which was a fun little surprise. For that same reason, I’m also aware that this book is not, in fact, a theological novel. While it deals with faith, with God, and with angels, its actually a science fiction novel, which makes it that much more brilliant. While you won’t get the full effect (or any of it, really) if you don’t read the other novels, the truths and stories revealed in the later books made me love this book even more.

This first novel in the series of Samaria books sets in place the world that is built upon in the later novels without going into so much detail that it becomes tedious.

In short, if you’re looking for a quick read that includes angels, a campaign for human rights, and a super awkward duo getting married, this is the one for you.