ESCAPOLOGY by Ren Warom
Available from Titan Books
Green-haired, bump addicted Fail, Shock Pao, is a cyber-genius. A hacker, or Haunt as they’re known to others, Shock is one of the best around, able to break any system put in front of him. When a job is offered to him by his crazy-ex Mim, he reluctantly accepts, needing the money so desperately, but realises he’s bitten off more than he can chew when he’s asked to do the impossible – a task that has seen the deaths of many other Haunts. A job that could potentially destroy the world as they know it.
Efficient cleaner Amiga is crimelord Twist Calhoun’s greatest asset. If he wants someone dealt with quickly and quietly, then Amiga is his girl. However, when her former flame Deuce asks for her help, she begins to question where her loyalties actually lie…
ESCAPOLOGY is a cyberpunk thriller novel from East Anglian author Ren Warom set in a future where the world has fallen apart from earthquakes with much of the land sunk with it. Only a few pieces of earth remain, such as Foon Gung, whilst other bits of land that managed to survive and break away turned into land ships, one of which is Resurrection City captained by Cassius and his bosun, Petrie. Technology has advanced so much that most people communicate silently using embedded instant messenger tech in the brain and those looking to get away from the real world or to obtain encrypted information from another do so via the Slip – an internet-style virtual world, a vast ocean where everyone is represented by a marine creature as their avatar. Tranquil and peaceful at times, the Slip seems a place where everyone can escape the grim reality of the real world. Our protagonist Shock Pao is all for escape and avoiding the harsh reality, addicted to drugs (bumps) and needed as much flim (money) to support his habit. Having no affiliations or qualifications, Shock is a loner with no official prospects but he’s the best at what he can do. He’s in the top 0.5% which makes him a go-to guy when people want something that doesn’t belong to them. It’s during one of these jobs that his life turns upside down.
Author Ren Warom has created a world unlike any other. The nearest I can compare it with is that of The Matrix and understanding that film and its ideas helped a lot in getting my brain wrapped round this sometimes complex plot. The book jumps straight into its world and much like being thrown in at the deep end, you have to adapt fairly quickly to the terminology she’s set in her world. I found this a bit hard to swallow in the early chapters of the book as my brain struggled with the numerous characters, their various occupations and motives as well as the worlds they find themselves in (real and virtual) not to mention those in control of it. There’s quite a lot to take in which can be quite confusing at times though manages to balance the story of Shock Pao with two other protagonists, Amiga and Petrie. Amiga’s story is probably the easiest to follow being an assassin for gangboss Twist Calhoun whilst her story intertwines with Shock and Petrie’s, the latter of whom acts as a land ship’s officer who begins to regret letting a wanted woman named Volk onto the ship. Despite its mental overload, it’s complexity also works to its advantage. There’s so much going on that in the book that really feels as though it’s a living, breathing world, complete with colourful characters, many of whom are vicious and manipulative, prepared to do anything to get what they want. It’s only towards the final third of the book that the narrative decides to share some secrets and explanations of the life of these characters. I had my “ahhh!” moments when I approached these but I couldn’t help thinking that I’d have benefitted from them more if these facts were established at the beginning of the book rather than towards the end. Little things like explanations regarding certain aspects of the world they live in or character traits could have helped enormously in understanding the earlier chapters.
ESCAPOLOGY is an inventive world and for me, it truly comes alive in the latter half of the novel. The beginning can be a little off-putting and a drag but sticking with it, I was thankfully rewarded with a gripping story that was as much about survival as it was about discovering and dealing with one’s self. This is seen in many ways as characters attempt to deal with their careers, their loves and even their gender, with Warom wonderfully handling a transgender character with respectfulness and realism.
A slow build up leads to a frantic, action-packed journey which had me glued to the pages as I wondered how the events would unfold and culminate. The conclusion is a little bit of an anti-climax though expected and fitting in its own way, with a touch of the feels thrown in for good measure. As her debut novel, ESCAPOLOGY shows Warom to have a brilliantly imaginative mind and with a bit of reigning in to give a more coherent narrative, she’ll no doubt be an author to watch out for.