Note that this is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.
I didn't know this was "the first novel in a sci-fi detective saga"! If I had, the very word 'saga' would have resulted in me avoiding it like the plague, and I would have been right to do so, because I simply could not get into this novel and I discontinued reading it at the end of part one, which was about one third the way through it. keep tha tin mind for this review. I don't read anything with 'saga' or 'chronicle', or 'cycle' associated with it! I'm not a series fan in general, with very few exceptions, but I did not know that when I requested this, so here we are!
This is an alternate universe world set slightly into our future (but dated earlier), and one where the United States is a fractious union of a handful of regions. How this came about as a result of Mrs Lincoln being shot instead of Abraham Lincoln is a bit of a mystery to me. Maybe if I'd read more, or felt more engaged, it would have all become clear, but the way the country was divided-up made no sense to me.
In this world, there's a problem with some citizens. Mirror neurons are thought to enable empathy, allowing us to feel what another person is feeling, and understand it from the inside, but in this world, in people like Victor, this normal brain function is amplified almost out of control. Indeed, some people do get out of control, and are confined in institutions for the well-being of themselves and others. Victor himself constantly lives on the edge of that confinement, although he is free and managing his condition through medication.
His grandfather dies unexpectedly and Victor discovers that the man was contaminated with polonium: the same radioactive metal which was used to assassinate Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko in our world. Victor relied heavily on his grandfather, who was working to find a cure for the extreme version of what is, in us, not only a normal, but a required brain function if we're to get along with others. A mirror neuron fires when we perform an action or experience a feeling, and this same neuron also fires when we observe that same thing in others. At least that's the working theory, but there is still much research to be done to understand these brain cells properly.
Again if I'd read more, maybe I would have understood the world better, but after reading some thirty percent I still felt completely lost and had no interest in events in this novel. The story seemed to have no real direction other than flapping in the wind around Victor's wild speculations and erratic behaviors. Wherever it was going, it seemed to be taking forever to get there, and this is just one volume. The idea of reading a whole series, or even just a trilogy of this stuff really turns me off!
The worst part was that I did not like Victor at all. I don't know what it was about him, but he just did not interest me in the slightest. I think part of the problem was that his behavior was too erratic, and his plan to get off his medication and try herbal supplements was just stupid and had no support - not only in our world for real, but even within the framework of his own world, where nothing was offered to justify this medication realignment, save for his own vague feeling of being a bit 'fuzzy'.
I'd have liked it better had he had some real justification, but he didn't (and in real life you'd be a moron to abandon your doctor's prescriptions and go haring-off after herbal cures, be warned!). The problem here though, was that even when the fuzziness vanished, he was still a complete clown, and really seemed no different to me than he was before.
The bottom line is that I had absolutely no interest in him or his problems, and I really didn't care what became of him. After I'd decided I could not recommend this book, I read some other reviews to see if I'd missed something, and I read one which said that the novel "started bogging down about 3/4 of the way through" - well it started way before that for me, and so i was pleased that I'd abandoned it before it got worse.
The characters were not the only problem for me, though. The story dragged awfully, larded with so much extraneous detail that it was boring to wade through it. Nothing seemed to happen except at a glacial pace (it's a series after all, so what possible incentive can the author have to actually move things along?).
There was also too much fluff in it for my taste. All kinds of word substitutions were put in play to try and make the novel seem different and alternate, and these didn't work. 'Mesh' instead of Internet? 'Sono-whatever' instead of audio? They just seemed pretentious, and felt like a lazy way to try and make the story sound cool without actually doing the work to make it cool. All they did was remind me that I was reading a story instead of actually immersing me in the story.
Why were there 'parts' to this novel - especially since it's evidently part of a series? Parts of a part? When I finished part one, I expected there to be a shift of some kind between it and part two, otherwise why set up a divider? But there wasn't! The novel was set in the early 1990's in that world timeline, but part two continued just two days later! There was no jump or shift of any kind, and it was this which constituted the final straw and made me decide that here was a good point to quit reading.
It just seemed so pretentious to have these parts (at least they were identified as 'Part' and not 'Book' which I would have found laughable), but it wasn't quite as pretentious as having each chapter labeled with a dateline such as "Semiautonomous California 23 February 1991." Several chapters in a row had this same dateline. Why? It made no sense. I felt like it was a silly conceit of unwarranted self-importance, and this became especially true in chapter 6, where the dateline "Semiautonomous California 23 February 1991" was used (as it had been for the preceding three chapters), yet most of that chapter was a flashback, which was given neither date nor a location! It made zero sense!
Here's another example of how silly this was:
Semiautonomous California 24 February 1991Well duh! Of course it's the day after! The dateline already told us! So what was the point of the dateline again?! Or conversely, what's the point of specifying it was the day after if the dateline already told us? I got the impression that the author had seen this dateline nonsense done in someone else's novel, and was anxious to copy it without having any real justification for it. Of course I could be completely wrong about that, but I see no justification for this kind of thing in any novel, unless the novel is written as a diary, in which case I wouldn't read it anyway.
The morning after the funeral...
So given a novel with a main character I really could not stand, and a story which seemed to be going nowhere slowly, and the pretension in the way it was laid out, this novel was not a good fit for me! It offered nothing to appeal, and while I wish the author all the best, I cannot recommend it for these reasons.