Company Town by Madeline Ashby
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Hwa is an expert at self-defense and the last person in her community that has chosen not to have bio-engineered implants. She's hired to protect the heir to the Lynch family, a young man named Joel, while also teaching him how to protect himself. But there's a murderer on the loose and it seems that Hwa is the only one who can put the pieces together and figure out who is after the women she calls friends. Hwa has to work out if the deaths are a coincidence or if someone is targeting the people she loves in an attempt to get to her.
It took me a while to finally sit down and get myself to read this book. I guess there's been too much distracting me from doing real reading for the last few months. But when I did start to seriously work through this book, I was charmed by Ashby's lead character, Hwa, a young woman who has made the best out of her situation.
Hwa was smart, resourceful, with snark and snap and a lot of bite. I really enjoyed her character, her interactions with Joel, the young boy she is hired to protect, and her back and forth with her boss, Daniel. Ashby created a well-rounded character, all facets of her understood without it needing to be spelled out. The same can be said for most of her characters, although there are a few tidbits I felt didn't mesh with the story but more on that in a minute.
The whole of the plot involves Hwa, a young woman with a reputation for fighting and guarding others in her care. Add to that the fact that Hwa is the last organic person on the oil rig she lives on, as most everyone has some kind of technological enhancement, and Hwa becomes the perfect bodyguard for Joel Lynch, the heir to the Lynch family company that runs the rig. When Hwa starts her job though, forces come together to destroy what she holds most dear, dividing her attention between protecting her new charge and discovering the identity of a serial killer that might be all too interested in her life.
All of it made for a really fascinating story. I was intrigued from the start, watching how the plot developed and looking for the clues about who the true villain was. That's where the story hit a rough patch for me. After developing so many of the characters in the book, the reveal of the villain didn't have the right impact because it honestly felt like it came out of nowhere. It felt as if there was precisely one scene near the start of the book that the reader was supposed to remember in one flash of a lightbulb moment to make the outcome be, "Oh, that's why that happened. I get it now."
Except it didn't land that way for me. I honestly sat there reading through that scene and the reveal and I thought, maybe, there had been a few things left out of the book that would have made that make more sense. Maybe it would have given the truth away faster but at least the development would have been there. Instead, the last few chapters felt like they jumped too fast to the last necessary plot points that needed to be hit and the big villain reveal felt like a letdown.
The ending feels as if there will be another book in the future. If there is, and when there is a sequel, as I want to be optimistic, I will read that book to learn more about what's to come in the future for Hwa, Joel and Daniel. Overall, a strong story that I'm really glad I got the chance to read.
Rating: 8 Stars. I was actually really impressed with the ideas in this book.
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