Saturday, October 27, 2012

ARC Review: Beta by Rachel Cohn

Author: Rachel Cohn
Publication: Hyperion Book CH (October 16, 2012)

Description: Elysia is created in a laboratory, born as a sixteen-year-old girl, an empty vessel with no life experience to draw from. She is a Beta, an experimental model of a teenage clone. She was replicated from another teenage girl, who had to die in order for Elysia to exist. 

Elysia’s purpose is to serve the inhabitants of Demesne, an island paradise for the wealthiest people on earth. Everything about Demesne is bioengineered for perfection. Even the air induces a strange, euphoric high, which only the island’s workers—soulless clones like Elysia—are immune to. 

At first, Elysia’s life is idyllic and pampered. But she soon sees that Demesne’s human residents, who should want for nothing, yearn. But for what, exactly? She also comes to realize that beneath the island’s flawless exterior, there is an under­current of discontent among Demesne’s worker clones. She knows she is soulless and cannot feel and should not care—so why are overpowering sensations cloud­ing Elysia’s mind? 

If anyone discovers that Elysia isn’t the unfeeling clone she must pretend to be, she will suffer a fate too terrible to imagine. When her one chance at happi­ness is ripped away with breathtaking cruelty, emotions she’s always had but never understood are unleashed. As rage, terror, and desire threaten to overwhelm her, Elysia must find the will to survive. 

The first in a dazzlingly original science fiction series from best-selling author Rachel Cohn, Beta is a haunting, unforgettable story of courage and love in a cor­rupted world.

My Thoughts: Beta was a science fiction exploration of slavery. Elysia was created in a lab after the death of her First. She is told she is one of the first teenage clones, a Beta. She is programmed with various microchips. One gives her basic knowledge about her life. The second is a locator chip which she first finds reassuring because it means she can't get lost. When she is just a few weeks old, she is sold to the wife of the CEO of the idyllic island of Demesne.

Demesne is the domain of the super rich. The air and water are chemically enhanced to make things perfect there. Most of the inhabitants are clones who are designed to do all the work of the island and to be aesthetically pleasing at the same time. Elisa is an excellent example of the kind of aesthetic that Demesne demands. She is beautiful, obedient, and trusting.

When she arrives at Mother's home, she is introduced to her new younger brother and sister. The brother is in training to join the corporate military. His father wants him to be the sixth generation of generals in the family. Elysia is tasked to help him become fit and ready. It is through Ivan that she meets some of the other teenagers on the island. There is Demetra who is a cutter and a neglected little rich girl, Greer who is the daughter of a military envoy, and Farzad who is the nephew of the richest man in the world. These privileged kids are living lives that essentially look perfect on the outside but are really pretty boring. They ease their boredom by taking a drug they call 'raxia which is short for ataraxia - Greek for pure happiness.

Elysia also meets her new little sister Liesel who is troubled with nightmares about bad guys who are shooting at her window. It is through her nightmares that Elysia learns that there are protesters who are against cloning. She also starts to learn that there are hints of an insurrection and possible clone revolt. She also learns that clones who are "defective" are killed. And Elysia begins to fear that she is defective. She is having flashes of memories about her First and a beautiful blond man. She has a sense of taste when most clones aren't interested in any foods except their strawberry shakes. She has feelings.

Things change when Tahir, the son of the richest man in the world, comes back to Demesne. He had been in a surfing accident but now he is well enough to be with his friends again. His friends find him terribly changed. He is not interested in any of the sporting events he did before. He seems cold and distant. Soon Elysia learns his terrible secret and is enlisted to help him. The two form a relationship because of the things they have in common and determine that they should run away but an incident happens that takes him and his family from the island before their plans can be finalized. Elysia is on her own again.

Also on the island is an Aquine who is a member of a sect of genetically engineered people and who is gathering information for the annual report to the Replicant Rights Commission. He is also the man that Elysia is having visions about and her First's great love.

Because this is the first book of a four book series, there is a lot of world building in this one. But because we are seeing the world through Elysia's innocent and naive eyes, the world unfolds gradually. The surface beauty and perfection seems to have a really nasty underside. We get various hints of it as Elysia becomes more aware.

It is interesting to watch Elysia's growth through the story from naive, innocent, and trusting to more knowledgeable and aware. Her eyes are opened through this story. I am eager to see where the next books take us. The world is fascinating and Elysia is a character that is easy to like.

I recommend this one to fans of the current crop of dystopias. It is well-written and engaging.

Favorite Quote:
I must remain a toy in order to stay alive.
I received this eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. You can buy your copy here. 

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