Genres: science fiction
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What if a microchip could identify your perfect match?
What if it could be used against you and the ones you love?
Eight years ago, Mercer Corporation’s M-Bands became mandatory. An evolution of the smartphone, the bracelets promised an easier life. Instead, they have come to control it.
Two years ago, Maggie Stevens watched helplessly as one of the people she loves most was taken from her, shattering her world as she knew it.
Now, Maggie is ready. And Quentin Mercer – heir to the M-Corp empire – has become key to Maggie’s plan. But as the pieces of her dangerous design fall into place, could Quentin’s involvement destroy everything she’s fought for?
In a world full of broken promises, the ones Maggie must keep could be the most heartbreaking.
Finding gems in YA dystopian fiction is something that has sadly proven to be few and far between for me in discovery. But I am very happy to say that with Disruption I found the action-packed, tightly plotted, and well characterized sci-fi escape I’ve been yearning for. Add in a very swoon-worthy romance and the package is sealed.
Disruption immediately envelops the reader in the near-future world of our main character, and anti-heroine, Maggie. Near-future DC is much like the present, and then much is not. Most notably, all citizens are fitted with a mandatory M-Band which is like a super advanced version of an Apple Watch. M-Bands have the capability to detect any person’s (in)compatibility with any other via their pheromones. You may turn off your pheromone matching system if you prefer. However, it is also required that everyone over the age of 18 must rate with at least 3 people every month. 3 negative matches in a month and one is branded a “neg” and removed from society, ostensibly placed in a “rehabilitation camp” of sorts. But Maggie knows better.
Two years ago, 18 year-old Maggie’s father suddenly went neg and was taken from her family. The resulting loss of social and financial security plunged her family into a devastation they are still struggling to recover from. For Maggie, who had a particularly close relationship with her father, the stultifying effect this had on her emotional development is evident. But her father did not leave Maggie without a gift; a pesticide developer, he had found a way to temporarily deceive negative pheromone ratings via a synthetic chemical “disruption.”
This is a dystopian that skews much more on the mainstream science fiction end of the scale, but often I find that it is just these same stories that are all the more frightening for how close they feel to our current reality. We see de facto monopolies and companies that seek to have ever more control over information and facets of our everyday living every day.
It is not so hard to envision an organization like Disruption’s M Corp, nor is it difficult to imagine the average person’s willingness to jump aboard technologies such as the M-Band.
One of the major strengths of this story is how tautly plotted and action-forward it is. There is not a single scene of filler. In every scene Maggie propels the story forward whether in brisk, high adrenaline action scenes or through moments of character development. This is Maggie’s show and everyone else just runs with it. Here is a character full of agency. And Shirvington is skilled at creating just the right amount of threat and menace in the atmosphere to keep the reader with breath baited.
Another major strength lies in the complexity of its (anti)heroine, and in getting to observe her interactions with those she loves. Since her father was taken, Maggie has been absolutely driven, stopping at almost nothing in her attempts to get him back. Including blackmailing fellow classmate, and heir to M Corp, Quentin. She has manipulated Quentin into believing he is a neg in order to use him to gain access to the corporation. She’ll give Quentiin the “disruption” that allows him to rate positively if he’ll help her.
Maggie is ruthless, cunning, and manipulative to the extreme. She also has a hacker sidekick, also under Maggie’s “employ” of sorts only because she is blackmailing him. Maggie puts not only herself, but her sidekick, and Quentin in extremely dangerous situations all in pursuit of the rescue of her father. Yet, she is not without a heart. This is a person who simply just believes in the ends justifying the means. Of course, actions such as Maggie’s have consequences and Shirvington does not shy from making sure her reaps what she has sown from her cruel and selfish actions. I very much appreciated having a main character like Maggie in YA. This is not a heartless monster, but a nuanced, complex person with a tremendous capacity for growth.
Now I did mention romance, didn’t I? I was surprised at well it ended up working for me given my trepidation about the set up. A romance between a conniving blackmailer and her prey? Hmmm. I found it hard to buy. But I have to give credit to Jessica Shirvington for her masterful buildup. Maggie’s shift in feelings and gradual humanization as she becomes more and more conflicted about the effects of her actions on others, in combination with the palpable chemistry between Maggie and Quentin, utterly won me over. Also, do you happen to love sweeping ballroom scenes where two characters with reluctantly growing feelings for each other share a dance and the chemistry is so electric it elicits a happy sigh? There’s one of those in this book. Please enjoy.
The plot did have some predictable turns, particularly at the end with View Spoiler »the reveal that Maggie’s dad has been working for M Corp all this time, and willingly left his family behind in dire straits without him « Hide Spoiler. But I was so engaged by the story and characters I found I didn’t even mind. I also don’t especially follow with all of the pheromone and the lengthy explanations provided for exactly how this technology works. But I’m also not someone who needs to have all the science in science fiction (or all of the magic in a fantasy) necessarily make sense so your mileage may vary.
All of that aside, this is the first book I’ve read in a long time that left me pained that I couldn’t immediately pick up the sequel. While the book does focus largely on Maggie, all of the characters are created with painstaking detail and their feelings and conflicts became my own. I loved the romance despite my misgivings, which should go to say a lot. Yes, there is action, and an all too eerily familiar future reality, but the heart of this story is Maggie. And her ability to carry this story as an antiheroine to root for makes this one a dystopian you need on your TBR.
An advanced copy was provided by the publisher for this review.