Plot: Elysia is a Beta, an experimental teenaged clone. She has been created to serve as a companion for the rich inhabitants of Demesne Island. Like the island, she has been bioengineered to be aesthetically pleasing and to bring joy to the humans she serves. Demesne’s clones are supposed to soulless, unemotional servants but Elysia feels, wants and worse, remembers bits of her First’s life. She fears that she is a Defect and will be killed if her secret is revealed. But as she learns more about the island and its inhabitants (human and clone), she realizes that her freedom and her feelings mean more to her than mere survival.
This review is based on an ARC received at BEA 2012.
This novel is quite different from Cohn’s previous books. She’s written a lot of contemporary teen romances, both by herself and with David Levithan, but this time she has taken us far into a post-apocalyptic future. There is some romance, indeed Elysia has two hot boys to choose from, but the focus of the novel is on the young clone’s struggle for identity and freedom.
I have mixed feelings about Beta. It is well written and the world-building is interesting. It combines a post-apocalyptic world, cloning, slavery, hedonism and budding insurection. All fascinating subjects for sci-fi. I honestly enjoyed reading it.
It’s hard to feel strongly for Elysia as she is still forming her personality at the start of the story. This makes sense narratively but it made me slower to fully commit to the novel. Her leisurely life and her ignorance of the world also take some of the dread out of what is clearly a problematic situation on the island. Though terrible things are going on in the background (and will eventually happen to Elysia herself), I could never bring myself to be particularly worried.
Ultimately, I would say that it was not the best YA sci-fi I’ve read about artificial humans, but it was a good one: it poses interesting moral questions and the ending promises exciting things to come in sequels.
Beta reminded me a bit of The Adoration of Jenna Fox, especially in the ways Jenna and Elysia, both teens new to the world, come to understand their world through vocabulary, conceal dangerous secrets and strive to be different from their original selves. The messages and the sci-fi technology are somewhat different but I think the two books would appeal to similar readers.
Beta will be released in October 2012, it will be the first in a four-book series.
Series: Beta (1)
Author: Rachel Cohn (http://www.rachelcohn.com/)