When Cate Benson was a kid, her sister, Violet, died. Two hours after the funeral, Cate’s family picked up Violet’s replacement. Like nothing had happened. Because Cate’s parents are among those who decided to give their children a sort of immortality—by cloning them at birth—which means this new Violet has the same smile. The same perfect face. Thanks to advancements in mind-uploading technology, she even has all of the same memories as the girl she replaced.
She also might have murdered the most popular girl in school.
At least, that’s what the paparazzi and the anti-cloning protestors want everyone to think: that clones are violent, unpredictable monsters. Cate is used to hearing all that. She’s used to defending her sister, too. But Violet has vanished, and when Cate sets out to find her, she ends up in the line of fire instead. Because Cate is getting dangerously close to secrets that will rock the foundation of everything she thought was true.
In a thrilling debut, Stefanie Gaither takes readers on a nail-biting ride through a future that looks frighteningly similar to our own time and asks: how far are you willing to go to keep your family together?
◆ An ARC was provided by Simon & Schuster for review ◆
Falls the Shadow presents an intriguing concept for consideration: the ethics of cloning and its implication. A concept that falls close to home with the debate over stem cell research. I'm not a big sci-fi reader, but the idea of clones at the ready to replace you should you die was one I couldn't pass over, making this one of my top ten anticipated debuts of 2014. Unfortunately, the actual execution of the story fell short, and it fails to fully fulfill the potential to explore the deep thematic issues of the humanity and what it means to be a family.
I think what drew me most to this book is the themes that underly the topic of this book. When I decide to pick up a science fiction novel, I expect to read something that explores the nature of humanity and what it means to be human. It goes along with the age-old battle of scientific advancement versus preserving our humanity. What I got with Falls the Shadow, however, feels more like your typical YA read where the teenage protagonist goes off in search of answers to some perceived wrong and struggles to find his or her place in the world. Except, while there is certainly teenage angst in this novel, it doesn't feel like we even explore that much. Mostly, I felt like I was following Cate on this misguided, badly planned, and highly dangerous journey and hoping that she wouldn't get herself killed in the process.
While I admire Cate's resolve to make her own decision in this battle between opposing forces that believe they're doing the right thing for humanity, she wavers a little too much in a lot of her decisions, and what she thinks doesn't always match up with what she does. She's also hopelessly naïve and charges through things without heed to the consequences, hoping that things will come through in the end. I understand that this is a part of being human—there's no absolute right or wrong decision in many cases—but Cate is the narrator, and she didn't provide stable grounding for me as a reader. With her lack of resolve, it was hard to connect with her and thus the story.
The world building was also severely lacking. At times, Cate feeds us a bit of the history of her world and how it came to be in the state that it is today. However, it's spotty and only touches on the highlights. Essentially, it's like a mini history lesson. It doesn't really prepare us to enter the world and tackle things alongside Cate. The best world building came to me in the Prologoue with a younger Cate going with her family to meet Violet's replacement for the first time. I felt like I was there with Cate, experiencing the loathing of the anti-cloning factions and seeing her relationship with her parents. I could feel the complexity of greeting your sister's replacement for the first time: the hesitancy and yet the hope that everything will be all right.
At the same time, the brilliance of the Prologue dies with the lack of sufficient followup in the first chapters. It takes a while to piece together how Cate's relationship with her sister's replacement has progressed since they first met, and even then it feels like a story I've been fed. In fact, the rest of the story lacks the emotional charge of the Prologue. After that, I never really connected with Cate and the other characters. It may be a combination of Cate's indecisiveness making it hard to decide whether or not to trust someone and also the stilted dialogue, which felt staged. Also, the teenagers do a lot of reckless, not-really-thought-out things that had me shaking my head and wondering why they hadn't failed their mission already. The only one I really felt was her own person is Violet (well, her clone), but she's not really present until the later part of the novel.
Overall, the story was a disappointment. Like I mentioned earlier, there was a lot of lost potential to really develop this post-apocalyptic world and explore some big thematic issues. The story ends on a note that leaves room for further installments, but I'm not interested in exploring this world further. Those looking for a quick, straightforward read may enjoy this one, but if you're looking for a deeper read with a complex plot and cast of characters, I would pass over this one.