Originally published at Sci Fi & Scary
Title: Composite Creatures | Author: Caroline Hardaker | Publisher: Angry Robot | Pub Date: 13/04/2021 | Pages: 400 | ISBN13: 9780857669025 | Genre: Sci-Fi | Language: English | Source: Review Copy | Unstarred Review
Composite Creatures Review
Composite Creatures was, for me, a frustrating read that never really improved upon my earliest impressions. Now, many books start slow. What I mean by this is that it takes time, as a reader, to get to know the characters and establish the rules of the world where the story takes place. Some readers enjoy contemporary works because they have a frame of reference for the setting, while others love original fantasy novels or sci-fi novels filled with new technologies, protocols, or alien beings.
Composite Creatures seemed like an interesting blend, with a real-world setting in a not-too-distant future where the air’s thick, all animals have died off, and pollution is killing people. ‘Seemed like’ is, for me, as far as it got.
The problem with Composite Creatures is that it’s primarily “tell” writing. Now, that isn’t an automatic knock. Some things have to be told in a story, or books would be thousands of pages long. There are moments when telling the reader something is more forceful and effective. But most of Composite Creatures occurs through Norah’s narrative. She tells us her story, and we rarely get to see things in action. There are only vague inferences to the illnesses people die from in this future world, and exactly what happened to cause animals to die off remains a mystery.
And Norah is an unreliable narrator. She tells us early on she doesn’t really know all the details about this health company she’s joining because some of the print on some of the pages was so small she didn’t bother reading it. It isn’t a case of a person being duped or misled by an evil organization with a sinister objective. No. It’s a case of an unmotivated person who doesn’t do their homework and just goes along for the ride.
And that underscores something about Norah that’s extremely frustrating. She isn’t driven. On any level. A character doesn’t have to be determined to have the best career to be interesting, but Norah really isn’t interested in anything. She doesn’t even bother reading texts from her friends and doesn’t phone them for months and months, then wonders why they don’t support her life decisions. She’s happy in a mediocre job, just keeping her head down and trying to avoid attention. And she’s happy letting the health company she joins make decisions for her, including tearing her away from the man she loves and putting her with a stranger.
From the start of the book it’s clear who Norah is.
Now, saying much about this book risks getting into spoilers, and I’ll stick to mentioning a few things behind a spoiler tag. There are legitimate content warnings as well. I’m also adding one thing about Norah that would have made me abandon this book. All I’ll say here is that it put a really bad taste in my mouth to feel like I wasted my time on a journey with someone I ultimately found so unlikable. This was compounded by the lack of details about the organization and their agenda. There was potential for so much action and drama if this story had begun before Norah joined the organization. As it is, there’s very little dialogue and very little that happens over the course of the novel. And just when there is some drama, the narrative skips ahead dozens of years so Norah can simply tell you what happened instead of taking you through the experience. Composite Creatures really doesn’t miss an opportunity to sidestep action and avoids moments when characters could be confronted by their choices and forced to act. I think my hope that the story would improve buoyed my along, but this only compounded my disappointment in the end. Two out of five stars.