by Mira Grant
Everyone has a tapeworm.
Symbogen has genetically engineered the tapeworm that will bring you true health and happiness. It secretes whatever meds you need – never worry about missing a pill! Birth control? Insulin? Antacids? Steroids? Whatever your medical needs, the Symbogen Intestinal Bodyguard is there for you!
In fact, it even brings people back from the dead. Just ask Sally Mitchell! She was braindead. Doctors were convincing her family to pull the plug, when Sally sat up and tried to detach herself from the machines.
(Rumors of her having no memory before that time are unsubstantiated. Pay no attention to such conspiracy theorists.)
Sally lives a normal life with her parents and sister in a normal home. She has a boyfriend and works at a pet shelter! Just imagine, if the Intestinal Bodyguard can give her a normal life after death, what could the Intestinal Bodyguard do for you?
Of course it all goes wrong. Why would you expect otherwise? If you’re reading a book like this, you know that the twist isn’t “Will it go wrong?” but “How will it go wrong?” Grant does a great job creating a sympathetic but far-from-perfect protagonist with Sally Mitchell. The plot’s pacing doesn’t allow you the chance to grab your breathe, either. As soon as you get a hold of where the plot is going, another twist yanks you away on another great sprint.
At one point, I told my Bride that it read like Michael Crichton writing a zombie novel: enough science to make you think this was plausible, but not enough to bog down the proceedings (and unique science, unlike, say, another “zombie virus”). Of course, about ten pages after that description, Grant pulled another plot twist. So, yeah, at one point this feels like a zombie story, but that doesn’t stay for long! Even the standard factions that the protagonist must choose between felt initially clichéd, until we got to know each side better.
Plot and characters keep things moving along nicely. However, not everything worked together pitch-perfect.
Sally has a major blind spot that I could see a mile away. I’m not sure of Grant wanted the reader to catch that particular twist that early – it felt telegraphed to me – but Sally’s ignorance of a certain fact caused me to bang my head against my nook a few times.
One of the main antagonists was also a frustrating mix of competent and complete idiot. For someone supposedly able to control so many facets, he had a few glaring blind spots as well. Perhaps we find out more about him later in the series, but in book one, I would have expected every corner in his headquarters to be peppered with video surveillance, and yet it never showed up.
Despite those flaws, the book moves along at a breakneck clip. Grant has a penchant for setting up a major confrontation, and then pulling the rug out from under you as that confrontation takes a turn you never would have expected. The setting is well-imagined, and the general conceit of the book makes for gripping reading.
Looking for more pseudo-science-fiction? This is a worthy read. If you like Michael Crichton or books that make you go, “Hm,” this is a good one to pick up.