Title: Company Town
Author: Madeline Ashby
Genre: Science fiction, mystery
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Goodreads Summary:Meet Hwa. One of the few in her community to forego bio-engineered enhancements, she’s the last truly organic person left on the rig. But she’s an expert in the arts of self-defence, and she’s been charged with training the Family’s youngest, who has been receiving death threats – seemingly from another timeline.
Meanwhile, a series of interconnected murders threatens the city’s stability – serial killer? Or something much, much worse...?
I loved everything about this book! The main character reminded me of one of my best friends and I loved how complex and gritty the worldbuilding was and I ADORED how much this book features empowered women and women helping each other out. AMAZING. Plus the story was full of twists and turns and impossible to put down.
Company Town is set in a future version of the earth that's a bit of a toxic wasteland, where a lot of people live on the streets but there are still corporations that have tons of money and technology beyond our wildest dreams. Almost everyone in this world has some kind of genetic or cybernetic modification; even the prostitutes, who are one of the lowest members of society, have had countless surgeries and mods. But Hwa-jeon is completely "organic", and that means she can't be hacked or manipulated like everyone else: the perfect bodyguard. Hwa gets hired by a sinister technology mogul to protect his son. Hwa has to balance her relationships with her family and friends with her loyalty to her new employers, which is a lot more complicated than it sounds.
I absolutely loved Hwa. She's not quite snarky but she has a dry sense of humor and she takes no shit from anyone. She's badass and capable, but she's also very vulnerable. When people she cares about are harmed, she is shattered and broken. My favorite thing about this book was the relationships between all the characters. All the characters are complex and unique, but together they weave a tangled web of complicated relationships. Hwa cares about her mother, but she also keeps her distance: Sun is abusive and makes it quite clear who her favorite child is. Daniel is an amazing friend who is always there for Hwa and affirming her value despite where she comes from, but what makes him so interesting is he has no idea who he really is or where he comes from. I adored Joel and Hwa's camraderie as well.
There were a lot of intense moments in this book where I was really close to tears, but there were also a lot of moments where I was straight up laughing. I didn't expect to be so emotionally invested in this book, but the characters made it so easy to be completely sold on the story. I also just really enjoyed Madeline Ashby's writing style. It's pretty sparse, but every word is there for a reason. Bonus points for all the witty banter :)
The climax was so intense but it made so much sense. I loved how the scope of the world expanded so much with one big revelation. I'm pretty sure this is a standalone novel but I'm excited to read other stories set in this world!
I definitely would recommend this book for sci-fi fans, especially if you like the grittier side of things. This book doesn't shy away from torture and gore, but it's not too depressing or disturbing. If you enjoy character-driven science fiction, this is definitely the book for you!