(I thank Netgalley and Abaddon Books for sending me the ARC in exchange for my honest review)
It’s not so often that one book meets all ones expectations, but it was clearly the case for me with « Death of a clone » : a clever, poignant and intriguing huit-clos on an asteroid, where less than two douzains of people live and work, cut off from the outside world.
In the book’s presentation the story is compared (quite audaciously, I thought) as an Agatha Christie murder. I was happy to realise that the comparison was twice true: Firstly the narrator, Leila, have read Agatha Christie’s stories and tries to find the murderer using Miss Marple techniques. Secondly the story, if not wrote at all as an Agatha Christie fan fiction, and having its own personality, satisfied me the same way, as much as for the characters’ development as for the unfolding mystery!
I loved Leila’s voice since the very beginning. Her intelligence, her sensibility without sentimentality, her innocence also – she seems so young and pure, having seen so much of real life! Indeed, as the others families of brothers and sisters (five « Ays », six « Jays », six « Bees » and two « Ells » – Leila and her sister Lily), Leila only knows 21 others persons and had never been away from « Hell », the asteroid where she lives (in a very austere station) and works (the outside, with no atmosphere). Her habit of reading is unusual, as if the clones know how to read they don’t have much distractions, if any, and no book at all. But M. Lee, the Ells’ overseer, has lent Leila his e-reader and she has read many classics from the 19th and 18th century. Hence Miss Marple!
We are in the future, without any precision, which isn’t necessary anyway to understand and feel the story. The action takes place on two stages, inside and outside, nowhere else. You mustn’t hope for some space opera here, the context is the future, in space, on a uninhabited asteroid except for 22 persons, working hard, and that’s it.
The context, quite simple, deceptively so even, is brilliantly used to create a wonderfully intricate story. The reader tries to guess the truth, using the knowledge (of human nature especially) Leila hasn’t and all the clues given by the story. None of them are superfluous, and the possible flaws of the story… aren’t flaws at all.
The author has made a superb job with the clones. The way they live together, how they accept their existence and the determinism of their personalities, how they live their kind of symbiotic relationship with their clones, and interact with the other families and the overseers, all is perfect, credible and cleverly done.
If the mysteries make the bones of the story, the reflection about identity and human slavery makes its meat. I frequently thought about two excellent recent books, while reading « Death of a clone » : « A close and common orbit » by Becky Chambers and an another one, which I can’t cite alas without spoiling the story (please ask me which one after reading « Death of a clone!)
A fantastic book I warmly recommend to all readers who love full fleshed characters living poignant lives in an abusive but also logical system – but without any unhealthy exposition or description, the narration favouring subtlety and trusting the reader to extrapolate and ponder about the injustice and consequences of the said system.
I loved it so much that I’ve ordered the paper book and will read the next book of the author as soon as it’ll be published!