Tuesday, 2 December 2003

Nylon Angel

Marianne de Pierres
Orbit
ISBN 1-84149-253-1


Nylon Angel is set on the east coast of future Australia, in the metropolis of Vivacity. It is one of the supercities, massive conglomerations of previously existing settlements that have meshed as they grew into one another. The media control everything, manipulating the lives of the city’s citizens to win ratings and having both the money and the influence to be able to do anything they want, de facto rulers of Viva. The division between rich and poor is bigger than ever, with the less salubrious citizens of the city forced to live on the poison-laced ground where refineries and industry used to stand while the rich shelter in spotless mansions behind guards and barbed wire. With crime lords fighting for every inch of poisoned soil and a thousand-and-one hazards waiting for the unwary, life is cheap and the slums of the Tert are a dangerous place to live.

Parrish Plessis was pretty good at looking after herself, even in a place as twisted as the Tert, but when she signed up to bodyguard duty for one of the crime lords she made a big mistake. Now Jamon Mondo owns her, body and soul, and the only way someone leaves his employ is in a body bag. Desperate for a way to escape his clutches, Parrish sees her chance when one of the Network’s star reporters is assassinated. Hunting down the main suspect in the hope of linking up with his powerful employers, she finds herself quickly drawn into a world of intrigue where nothing is as it seems and everybody has an ulterior motive. On the run and hunted by just about every faction there is, Parrish discovers a far more sinister threat than the petty bickering of the gangs, as the Angel begins to unfurl its wings…

Nylon Angel is written from the point of view of Parrish Plessis, and is done so in a very easy-going, relaxed manner that makes it an effortless read. The reader is dropped straight in at the deep end, the first-person perspective meaning as-yet unexplained references to places, people and objects are common and the slang is flowing thick and fast. Marianne de Pierres’ relaxed style makes it clear enough what’s happening without understanding exactly what every word Parrish uses actually means, and clarifications are made throughout the book at a comfortable pace. By the last page the reader will be comfortable with ‘Goboys, Canrats, ‘Terros and more, and it all adds a little verisimilitude to the rough and ready world of Vivacity’s underside. On top of that, de Pierres has a talent for evocative description without descending into flowery prose and the dialogue is snappy, realistic and at times amusing.

First impressions of Nylon Angel are uninspiring – the setting seems nothing new and the first few pages portray Parrish Plessis as little more than a surly loner, short on brains and careless of other people – in other words, a stereotypical antihero. Combined with the easy-to-read style this gives the feeling that the book is going to be light on plot and depth, the author more interested in showing what a hard-ass her heroine is than developing her as a person. That feeling is wrong. Push past the first couple of chapters to the point where everything starts going seriously wrong for poor old Parrish and you see a surprising amount of characterisation emerge, both of our cyberpunk heroine and the secondary players around her.

The plot, too, develops layer after layer as the story progresses and the crises really being to pile up, the intrigue and infighting between the numerous factions becoming interesting and engaging. The only problem with the plot lies in the nasty and terrible secret that emerges during Parrish’s struggles – somehow, despite its potential ramifications for all of mankind, this aspect of the plot is underemphasized, taking a back seat to the gang warfare and failing to seem as serious as it probably should.

Nonetheless, Nylon Angel is a fun and exciting read once you get past the introductory chapters and while not being particularly original is refreshing enough to keep the pages turning at a furious rate. A well-written cliff-hanger ending makes it abundantly clear there is going to be a second book in the series, and if it is as good as the first there could be a bright future ahead of Marianne de Pierres. As such, Nylon Angel finds a welcome place on my ‘Quality Cyberpunk’ shelf.


This review was originally written for SFcrowsnest.com