Review: The Companions by Katie M. Flynn
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 (Overall): 2 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopia
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Gallery/Scout | Audiobook: Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: 272 pages | Audiobook: 7 hrs and 59 mins
Narrators: Michael Crouch, Ramon De Ocampo, Hillary Huber, Erin Moon, Rebekkah Ross, Candace Thaxton, Jesse Vilinsky, Emily Woo Zeller
The Companions by Katie M. Flynn gave me mixed feelings after I finished it. Even now, I find myself struggling to put my thoughts into words, but it’s probably clear from my rating this book wasn’t for me.
Set in the near future, in a dystopic quarantined California amidst a deadly virus, the story begins with an introduction to two seemingly average friends, Lilac and Dahlia, though pretty soon the full explanation behind their complicated relationship is revealed. Welcome to a world where death doesn’t always mean the end. New technology has made it possible to transfer the minds of the recently deceased into robot bodies, creating “companions” for survivors of the virus, now under lockdown and unable to venture outside their sealed towers. Some companions stay with their families, while others are sold or rented to the general public, for purposes ranging from caretaking to sexual slavery. The point is, they are considered property, denied the basic rights of human beings because they are believed to be bound to their programming. Lilac, for example, had been acquired by Dahlia’s mother to serve her daughter, yet the two girls sometimes end up sharing stories into the night.
But from recounting details from her life before her death and the outbreak, Lilac starts to remember more about what happened to her—like the fact she was murdered—as well as the people she used to know, such as her beloved childhood friend Nikki. Escaping the wrath of Dahlia’s mother, Lilac sets out to find answers hoping they will also lead to Nikki, thus kicking off a narrative that explores the past and future, spanning time and geography while featuring numerous other characters from a wide range of backgrounds.
Since we’re in the middle of a pandemic-driven shutdown of our own right now, I thought it would be fun to torture myself by picking up a book about a virus outbreak and quarantine, but instead this one proved painful to read for all kinds of other reasons. I guess I just don’t do well with fractured rambling stories, which pretty much describes The Companions trying to cram multiple books’ worth of content into a mere 272 pages. The result is a convoluted mess filled with characters who inspired no emotional connection, and they were lucky if I could even remember their names for this review. The fact that many of them made so little impact tells you more than needs to be said about their development. While the writing wasn’t bad, and even shines through with a lyrical gem every now and then, the problem was in the story’s style and structure and how awkwardly its different parts came together.
Granted, the concept behind the book was interesting, but speaking as someone who has been reading sci-fi and dystopian fiction for years, I found nothing new and innovative here that would make me drop everything and pick up The Companions over other books that address a lot of the same themes and topics. So many the world-building elements felt incidental or just tacked on, like the entire quarantine aspect. Again, this appears to stem from a failure to bring everything in the story together in a way that captured my imagination, and it’s a shame because there’s actually a lot of potential in the setting and premise.
My final thoughts? Even with its familiar and well-trodden themes, I think The Companions could have added a lot to the genre if it hadn’t tried to do too much or if we’d been given more time to explore the characters and their relationships through the decades covered in this book. Instead, the way things came across felt too convenient and disorienting, and that in turn reduced the story’s emotional impact. Overall, I confess I came away more confused than satisfied, but others may do better with it if they can keep up with the plot and characters. There are good ideas here, the writing is decent and I wanted to like this book, but sadly things just didn’t come together for me.