a review by Nalini Haynes
The Killables is set in a post-apocalyptic future, the central business district of London has been walled in to create a small city with 5,000 residents huddled together, surviving the holocaust in relative civilised comfort. All citizens of the city have had their amygdala, or emotion centres of their brains, removed, leaving them with a Harry Potter-esque scar on the right forehead.
Evie is a 17 year old girl who works for the government while waiting for Lucas, her betrothed, to decide when they will marry. Raffy is Lucas’ brother and Evie’s lover; they meet inside a tree at night, then Evie returns home to dream of being carried to safety in a man’s arms. When she cries out at night during this wonderful dream, her mother hears her. In the morning her mother criticises her and reports her to authorities.
Everyone in the city has a class; most people are rated A, B, C or D, with pins on their collars that reflect their status. Ds are the untouchable class, considered deviant. In The Killables it was considered socially acceptable to assault D class as well as to refuse to serve them or sell them necessities. The only class below D is K: Ks are taken away and never seen again. Apparently they are taken away for New Baptism which is either a removal of their amygdala that has grown back, reconditioning, removal from the city or being killed. The author couldn’t make up her mind about Evie’s beliefs on this subject until it was finally revealed that Ks were put out of the city to be eaten by the Evil Ones.
The Killables has enormous potential as a story within the framework that was set up early on, however there were flaws. The difficulties I encountered are, in the order that I noticed them, as follows.
Firstly, in the Advanced Reading Copy I received, the author included a passage from Wikipedia as a source of information explaining why the amygdala was so important to the story and why she had decided to place an emphasis on the amygdala as the means of source of mental illness and negative emotions. In itself, this is not a negative. However, the solution as presented in The Killables was removal of the amygdala. The amygdala is the source of emotions, so removal of the amygdala would result in totally flat affect people functioning (if at all possible) on thought alone without emotion. There would be no smiling, no religious ecstasy, no worry, no hatred, no fear, which the author kind of engaged with then seemed to forget. In this story the amygdala could also grow back, requiring a ‘New Baptism’ or second removal; this is equivalent to a kidney growing back.
Malley seems to have used Wikipedia as her sole source for information regarding the amygdala; I am unsure whether she wanted a Harry Potter reference or misinterpreted the location of the amygdala in the Wikipedia images. Malley initially acknowledged the amygdala is on both sides of the brain but then chose to only remove the right side and that through the right frontal lobe, thus removal should have inflicted considerable damage on cognitive, motor and sensory functioning by drilling through those portions of the brain. A better means to Malley’s chosen end would have been tampering with neural networks or giving people mood altering medication. Both could have achieved the outcomes Malley wanted and provided scientific justification; with discussion of the issues around this kind of medical tampering aligned with a solid plot, The Killables could have become an important science fiction/speculative fiction novel written by a woman.
The narrative was from Evie’s point of view with occasional information dumps from the third person omniscient perspective until a subsequent info dump changed into a scene with Lucas and Brother, a political leader. There was a bit of wavering but, from the half of the book I read, it looked as though Evie would remain the main focus. The narrative tended toward melodrama for the duration of information dumps. This contrasted poorly with dystopian fiction such as Veronica Roth’s Divergent, where the story was told from the protagonist’s view including exploration of the society and history. In Divergent, the impact of the social structure was explored from the teen perspective instead of making sweeping statements that tended toward melodrama; Divergent felt more real and more immediate.
There were numerous inconsistencies in the storytelling apart from the narrator, the amygdala and the New Baptism. Evie’s mum wakes if Evie cries out once in her sleep, but apparently sleeps through Evie and Lucas or Raffy having dramatic arguments in her bedroom near her parents’ bedroom. Raffy finds a ‘glitch’ in the government computer system, which turns out to be evidence of another city or refuge from the Evil Ones. If an IT geek finds evidence in a computer system to which they have legitimate access, this does not need to cause a major system shutdown. This is what happened in The Killables, which drew everyone’s attention to Raffie and Lucas.
If emotion, especially negative emotion, is considered to be a bad character trait, then bashing D class people should be punished instead of condoned or encouraged: cultivating this kind of social hierarchy is a means of maintaining a power base over emotional people. Evie is aware that Ks are possibly killed and yet she is surprised when Lucas definitively tells her this is the case. In a particular scene Lucas and Evie were outside the house, then they are in a room with a floor, then Evie goes to the front door to go inside to get a key, leaving Lucas outside on a path. Early on Evie knew that Lucas received a gold watch after dobbing his father in, resulting in his father’s removal as a K, and yet Evie is distressed when this information is imparted to her again.
Evie and Raffy escaped from the city (formerly London’s business district) by fleeing through a swamp full of quicksand (-_-), fighting a large and vicious guard dog without a weapon, without even using Raffy’s backpack as a weapon, tackling the dog front on, successfully knocking the dog so far into the swamp that it disappeared immediately. Raffy also managed to be knocked so far into the swamp that Evie had to remove her overalls to use as a rope to rescue him from the quicksand that was sucking him under. At this point I decided to do the author and myself a favour and to cease reading. Instead I skipped to the end of the book, read the last few paragraphs of the last chapter plus the epilogue, which confirmed my expectations of the romantic triangle that was set up early in the book.
The Killables had huge potential but fell short. My recommendation is that the author find a good group of Beta readers and a professional writing group like wRiters on the Rise. The version of The Killables I read should not have passed the structural edit stage.