As an eight-year-old living on the alien world of Bocai, Andrea Cort was caught up in an inexplicable night of blood-lust and murder. Remanded to the custody of the Diplomatic Corps from that point on, she has traded a life of service to the Corps for safety from prosecution by those who view her actions on Bocai as unforgivable – as Andrea herself does. Now Associate Legal Counsel for the Homo Sapiens Confederacy Diplomatic Corps Judge Advocate, Andrea finds herself assigned to a murder investigation on the fabricated cylinder world of One One One. Created by an artificial intelligence known as the AIsource, One One One is also home to an engineered sentient species developed by the AIsource: the Brachiators. Extremely slow moving primates, the Brachiators spend their lives navigating the vine entangled hub of One One One which, while covered with vegetation, is essentially the “sky” since the pull of gravity is toward the outside of the rotating cylinder – an area of roiling poisonous atmosphere.
Andrea is charged with tracking down the killer…as long as the AIsource isn’t implicated by her investigation. She has a large suspect pool to choose from in the Dip Corps contingent observing the Brachiators while living in a community built of huge hammocks suspended from the Uppergrowth. Complicating the investigation is not just Andrea’s uncertainty about who she can trust on One One One – starting with Ambassador Stuart Gibb; the minder he’s assigned to her, Peyrin Lastogne; and the intriguing one-entity-in-two-bodies Porrinyards – but the occurrence of a second murder, multiple attempts on her life, and the ongoing battle with her own inner demons.
This book was a surprisingly seamless blend of sci-fi and mystery and it worked pretty well for me on both fronts. Although it took me an uncommonly long time to get the layout and construction of One One One fixed in my head, on the whole the world-building was well-developed without devolving into needlessly complex detail. The omnipotent AIsource may not strike even the casual sci-fi reader as refreshingly unique (and unfortunately, based on the descriptions I kept picturing them as floating LCD screens) but they were well integrated into the plot and provided a few surprising moments.
The Confederacy is an interesting political animal with far flung member worlds that are, as often as not, basically owned by corporations who have made the inhabitants debt slaves. The Diplomatic Corps offers an alternative to that life but is its own brand of indentured servitude. This sets up fertile ground for conflict not only within the context of this book but I also anticipate it expanding nicely into the rest of the series. I was slightly discontented by how one of the plot threads relating to the murder investigation wrapped up – both in how exposition-heavy the conclusion was and in the whodunit part – but the entire mystery story line was unexpectedly (and pleasingly) multi-layered.
In many ways, Andrea displays the characteristics of an antihero. She’s blunt, often rude, and wholly misanthropic. She’s lacking in ideals other than completing the task assigned to her where she’s not so much pursuing justice as puzzle-solving while giving herself a reason to tune out the inner voice that tells her to stop trying and give up on life. She’s unsuited to an investigation based in “Hammocktown” since she has an aversion to heights and unlike many of the other Dip Corp indentures on One One One, she’s not genetically enhanced.
Adam-Troy Castro did a nice job balancing Andrea’s unlikeable characteristics with understandable motivations for why she acts the way she does. She also has a subtle character arc that I look forward to seeing reach apex over the course of the series. This combination enabled me to maintain interest in what could have been an unlikeable character until the changes that began to take place in her in response to events on One One One started to humanize her a bit. I found the dynamics between her and the Porrinyards particularly engaging.
For the most part, I enjoyed the narration by Kathe Mazur and will continue with the series in audio. She seemed to actively inhabit the character of Andrea Cort and handled the voicing of the AI entity and the somewhat alien Brachiators well. Much of the first person narrative delivery is in an almost confidential in tone, as if I was standing nearby and Andrea were half-whispering her thoughts. I struggled with that in some respects because I interpret that delivery as indicative of strong narrative tension but here it seemed more of a presentation style chosen for a first person narration and I was unable to maintain a sustained engagement with that much perceived tension. It also had the effect of then partially blunting the moments of real tension that the story provided. Andrea Cort is a very tightly wound character with a significant amount of emotional baggage and my read of her character is that because she feels she has nothing to lose, she tends to be blunt and forceful in expressing herself. Where I found the narration to be ideal was in balancing Andrea’s unlikeable aspects (her brusque speech patterns and disregard for anyone’s feelings) with just enough emotional vulnerability tinging her thoughts to keep me from disconnecting from her character. In addition, the supporting cast of characters were nicely distinct in both vocal presentation and viewpoint.