Title: The Actuality
Author: Paul Braddon
Date of Publication: February 2021
Publisher: Sandstone Press
Genre: Sci-fi / Literary fiction
Format reviewed: NetGalley ARC
Number of pages: 304
Evie is a near-perfect bioengineered human. In a broken-down future England where her kind has been outlawed, her ‘husband’ Matthew keeps her hidden. When her existence is revealed, she must take her chances on the dark and hostile streets, where more than one predator is on the hunt.
The Actuality is a gripping, atmospheric speculative thriller from a powerful new voice.
The Actuality is the definition of the right kind of literary dystopian sci-fi novels. I am generally not into literary fiction as it makes me feel stupid (I can never remember the beginning of a sentence starting three lines above and composed of words I don’t know!) or bored very quickly. I read sci-fi once in a while, when a blurb catches my eye or if there is a dystopian vibe to the book. So you may wonder why I just defined Paul Braddon’s book as literary sci-fi if it’s not my usual drug. Because it feels good to venture into new worlds. Because broadening your horizons mean you discover little nuggets of fiction that are worth it. Like The Actuality.
What made The Actuality stand out and what did I enjoy?
The setting => A futuristic London. I am an adopted Londoner and any excuse to spend time in the city is good for me. The author created quite a scary London, though, and I never felt safe while walking the streets…
The main character => Evie. In a nutshell, she’s a robot. Not any robot. I just said I didn’t feel safe walking around London… Well, I shared this feeling with Evie. Now you may wonder how this is possible as robots don’t have feelings. Do they? The thing with Evie is that she is an exceptional creation. If at the start she is quite happy to go with what others say or decide for her, rendering her believable and plausible, somewhere along the way, her true self awakes and the real Evie shows up.
The plot => Evie’s kind was outlawed but her owner kept her unregistered and hidden in his apartment for forty years. Shielded from the real world, nothing has prepared her to be thrown into the street after a very unfortunate event. Away from the luxury life, she’s always known, Evie needs to rely on herself to survive in a world for which she is the enemy. Never fully explained, it is hinted that something went badly wrong with bio-engineered humans and that it was decided we could do without them. It was fascinating to discover the world at the same time as Evie, from a gorgeous apartment to filthy and dangerous places. Like her, the reader doesn’t know what awaits outside. It definitely helped me connect to her, despite Evie not being ‘alive’… Writing this makes me uncomfortable. Evie did have feelings. A goal. Hopes. The threat and fear of her being discovered never leave the pages and adds a palpable tension to the read that was very enjoyable. Each obstacle on Evie’s path reinforced my idea that she was not just a great piece of work. The author touched upon the uncomfortable subject of AI turning up with a kind of conscience, and the human fascination and wariness of technology. It’s all around us, and there is no one to say where the limit stands.
The writing => Literary fiction… I blame lit classes for my discomfort and urge to cringe when I read or hear those two words. Yet, from time to time, I discover an author who managed to build a world and insert emotional resonance with strong and intelligent prose. It is the case with Paul Braddon, who transported me in 2130 with ease and blended science fiction with descriptive writing that was very satisfying to devour.
Verdict: The Actuality is like its main character, a new breed. It’s evocative, bold, and clever.
You can grab your copy now! Amazon
Thank you to Ceris at Sandstone Press for inviting me to read and review this novel. This is my unbiased opinion.