A review by Evie Kendal
Reboot is a young-adult paranormal fiction with a first-person narration from the perspective of Wren 178, an enslaved “reboot” whose job it is to hunt down criminals and hand them over to her human owners. Reboots are essentially zombies, undead former humans who died after being infected with the widespread KDH virus and were somehow brought back from the dead. Wren 178’s name indicates the number of minutes she was dead before being “rebooted” – the higher the number the less human the reboot, meaning greater speed, strength and healing ability, but less capacity for human emotion.
The beginning of this novel is masterful in the way it sets up the fictional world without indulging in unnecessary exposition or being frustratingly cryptic. The reader is literally dropped right in the middle of the action (in media res), following Wren 178 and one of her trainees as they hunt down a criminal they’ve been tasked to capture. The reader then learns Wren 178 is feared by humans and reboots alike for being one of the highest numbers on record.
When Wren 178 returns to the compound where she and the other reboots are housed, more of the background story is revealed, including the details of the KDH virus and how it kills most people and only a few children end up rebooting. It is hinted that adult reboots are rare and considered so dangerous they are put down rather than captured and used as hunters. It is also explained that reboots are generally considered “cold, altered copies” of the humans they once were, and that historically they were routinely executed (18). The reboots retaliated and a war broke out, but as they were outnumbered the reboots lost and are now enslaved by the Human Advancement and Repopulation Corporation (HARC).
Wren 178 was shot dead at age 12 and has been a reboot for 5 years. It is explained that reboots continue to age normally, however they are very hard to kill due to their superior healing abilities. They also have a distinct physical appearance that differs to living humans, described in the text as “pretty with a hint of deranged” (30).
In the reboot hierarchy, Wren 178 is a trainer and as a result of her seniority usually gets to choose the higher number reboot recruits to train. The survival rate for her trainees is the best in the compound, which Wren 178 has always attributed to their higher numbers. However, when Callum 22 challenges her to consider whether it might be her own skills as a trainer that is making the difference she somehow finds herself taking him on as a trainee, despite his number being one of the lowest she’s ever come across. Callum 22 is practically indistinguishable from a living human child – he is emotional, cries when he is injured in training, and is generally unfit and uncoordinated. Despite her annoyance, Wren 178 has to admit there is something about Callum 22 that intrigues her, a small vestige of human emotion breaking through her cold personality.
While Wren 178 struggles to make a useful hunter out of Callum 22, she also discovers that the “under-60’s,” including her cellmate, Ever 56, are being forced to undergo experimental treatments. These are designed to make the under-60’s stronger, but often turns them into mindless beasts that have to be destroyed. Furthermore, Callum 22 starts to question what happens to the humans they are forced to hunt and whether they really are the guilty criminals HARC declares. Wren 178 has never doubted the justice of her mission before, however, when HARC demands she execute Callum 22 for failing to improve, she decides she is done with blindly following orders.
This sets up the rest of narrative in which she must fight to save Callum 22’s life while also trying to understand what is really going on in the HARC facility. Along the way she meets human rebels who are trying to overthrow HARC and establish a citizen-led democracy, breaking powerful reboots out of captivity to fight for their side. These rebels claim to have a plan for Wren 178 involving smuggling her out of HARC and resettling her in a reboot reservation.
In terms of the physical book, Reboot is unusually designed. In the paperback version all pages have a wide, patterned border that together form the image of an eyeball and several barcodes when looking at the fore edge of the book (some beautiful examples of this art-form are here). The font size and text makes for easy reading and the short chapters give the illusion of a more rapid progression through the novel. The cover art is eye-catching, although the presence of barcodes and the title Reboot, seem to point toward a cyberpunk story, rather than a teenage zombie romance.
Reboot is suitable for young adult and adult readers, both of fantasy and paranormal romance. The action is sustained throughout the narrative and the characters are interesting. The HARC facility is like the school of (literal) hard knocks, where the reboots are treated very harshly, both by the guards and their reboot trainers. Some of the violence might be distressing for some readers, particularly the routine bone breaking intended to increase resilience and pain tolerance in the field. For this reason, Reboot may not be suitable for younger audiences.
A sequel is expected in May, 2014.