#RRSciFiMonth YA Weekend: Toxic by Lydia Kang
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Entangled: Teen (November 6, 2018)
Length: 368 pages
When it comes to science fiction, there are few things more irresistible to me than a story about killer robots or rogue AI. This is the premise behind Toxic, a young adult space adventure set aboard Cyclo, a massive state-of-the-art live ship that’s the first of its kind. But of course, being an actual biological construct, Cyclo isn’t your typical sentient ship. Like anything alive, it also experiences senescence, and now it is slowly but surely dying.
In order to study such a momentous and scientifically significant event, data collectors have been dispatched on a one-way trip to Cyclo to document the ship’s final days. Made up entirely of criminals, this group was never intended to make it back alive. Among them is Fennec, who has signed on for the mission as a way to repay his debt to society. He’s determined to fulfill his contract so that his sister will be taken care of when he’s gone, because when the ship dies, he and his team will soon follow.
However, instead of finding Cyclo completely evacuated, Fennec and his fellow mercenaries discover a lone girl on the ship, who apparently has been left behind. For seventeen years, Hana has been kept isolated and hidden because her very existence would have been a violation of the strict population laws. Created illegally by her mother and cared for by Cyclo, Hana dreams of the day she will finally be revealed and accepted by the outside world. But one day, she wakes up to find her mother gone, the entire ship empty. She is devastated when Fennec and his team arrive, informing her of Cyclo’s impending demise and the reason for their mission. Hana doesn’t understand why she has been abandoned and left to die, but for the first time in her life, she has gotten a taste of freedom and knows she will do anything for a chance to live.
Toxic was an interesting book, even if the pacing was uneven in some places. I loved the opening chapters which introduced Hana and her fascinating backstory, as well as Cyclo’s role in her upbringing. Speaking of which, the ship itself was one of the novel’s best characters. While Cyclo is a complex and intelligent entity, it nonetheless possesses many traits that remind readers that it is a creature of instinct. As such, many of its behaviors and actions are completely unpredictable and made this one a joy to read. Biological technology is something I love seeing in books, and Lydia Kang explored the idea in a way I found quite unique and engaging.
That said, compared to the first riveting chapters, I thought the middle sections of the novel dragged a bit. The story doesn’t waste time establishing an attraction between Hana and Fennec, which I thought was a mistake. Given the circumstances—him being literally the first boy she’s ever met, and she being the last human girl he’ll have contact with before his final sentence is served—the entire situation kind of left a bad taste in my mouth. The focus on the romance also diminished the presence of the others around them. As I sit here writing this review, I find that I can hardly remember anything at all about the supporting characters, who mostly served as background distractions.
Thankfully, the story picks up again in the last third. I was quite taken with Kang’s writing, and was especially impressed with her characters’ dialogue and banter. I also liked how Fennec and Hana were able to bond over a shared interest in antiquities, so that there ended up being something deeper driving their relationship. Most important of all, the mystery reaches its climax in this section. Toxic is a standalone so you’ll get all the answers before it’s over, and there are plenty of surprises and twists to keep the momentum going until the very end.
As usual, the somewhat awkward handling of the romance was what affected my overall enjoyment of the novel, but only slightly. All in all, Toxic ended up being a pretty good read, and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Its minor flaws aside, I thought the book displayed a high level of creativity and depth of thought, and some of its darker and more disturbing moments also made for some incredible atmosphere. I would recommend it for YA sci-fi fans, and Lydia Kang is an author whose work I’ll be keeping my eye out for in the future.