#SciFiMonth Audiobook Review: The Original by Brandon Sanderson & Mary Robinette Kowal
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): 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Recorded Books (September 14, 2020)
Length: 3 hrs and 30 mins
Narrator: Julia Whelan
I’m a big fan of Brandon Sanderson, and I’ve also enjoyed the Mary Robinette Kowal’s work in the past, so you can imagine my excitement for their futuristic sci-fi action-thriller collaboration. There’s a couple things you need to know, however. First, this is novella-length story, and second, it is only available as an audiobook, and both these factors have the possibility to influence your enjoyment as it did mine.
The Original starts with protagonist Holly Winseed waking up in a hospital room with no recollection of how she ended up there, surrounded by government agents waiting to interrogate her, and based on their questions, her heart immediately fills with a sense of dread as she realizes what must have happened. She is a Provisional Replica, a clone that is created only in cases where their Original had committed a serious crime. In this case, the real Holly had murdered her husband Jonathan in cold blood and is now on the run, evading all attempts to track her down. The task now falls to replica Holly to find and kill her. If she succeeds, she will be given the opportunity to assume her Original’s place and petition for Jonathan to be revived. But if she fails, her life-sustaining treatments required by replicas will be halted, and she will die.
But the government had underestimated Holly’s persistence for answers. As a clone, she has all her Original’s memories and emotions, and she cannot fathom any scenario in which she would ever want to kill her husband. With her new combat implants and enhanced abilities, replica Holly sets out to find her Original, convinced of her innocence. But as the trail of clues takes her closer to her goal, Holly comes under attack by terrorists and other shadowy enemies, forcing her to confront some uncomfortable truths.
Sad to say, despite the incredible premise and some of the very cool ideas here, I can’t say I enjoyed this one as much as I wanted to. The good news, however, is that the world-building is fantastic. There was definitely some of that Sanderson magic shining through, especially the points about injectable nanite technology allowing humans to essentially choose eternal life should they want it. Those who decide to live on the edge and “checkout” of this system become the ones that go against the prevailing norm for a variety of reasons, which can range from risk-taking to the preservation of personal privacy. This creates the basis for further exploration—from social, moral, and emotional standpoints and more—quite typical for Sanderson stories, if you’re familiar with his work.
Unfortunately, the world-building is about the only aspect I found to truly stand out. This was a relatively a short novella, so that might a restricting factor, limiting development to the characters and plot. As for Holly, I didn’t feel much sympathy towards her, and felt like there may have been slight overwriting and too much telling-not-showing when it came to her feelings and motivations (which incidentally is a weakness I’ve noted in Kowal’s books in the past). I also could have done with more action and thrills, and less time spent in Holly’s head watching her bemoan her situation and wallow in self-pity.
All in all, The Original was enjoyable enough, but I have to say I’d expected a bit more from a collab project between these two powerhouses of SFF. It’s still a good listen and worth your time, but it didn’t wow me, and on top of that, there were a few things about the audiobook I found irritating. Narrator Julia Whelan delivered a fantastic performance, as she always does, but I had no idea what the production team were thinking when they added in the sound effects, which came in at the most random times. Instead of adding to the atmosphere and immersion, they were just plain annoying, and is definitely not usual for an audiobook.