Cover Image: Panacea

Panacea

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Member Reviews

First off, the worldbuilding in this was nicely done. The dystopian, not-too-far-away future the author created was very interesting, and there's a lot of potential for future sequels here.

However, this was written as alternating first-person chapters among several characters. I personally found all their voices similar, and I kept forgetting who was the POV character in a chapter. I found it confusing to follow what was happening because of this, and I think I would have enjoyed this more if it had been written from third-person.
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This novel was very enjoyable. Good characters, perfect pace, and very relevant regarding social issues.
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I was provided a free copy of this book by the author to review. This has in no way influenced my review or rating.

4.75/5 Stars

Panacea Build 1.0 by Charli Drever is YA sci-fi set in London, 2039. It follows a group of teens who are all affected in various ways by violent anti-immigration sentiment, like a recent law prohibiting immigrants, asylum seekers, and their children from attending college. This has only added to the existing unjust laws like reduced electricity rations for the aforementioned. The city is controlled by augmented, literal unfeeling soldiers whose emotions are removed via a (chemical?) hub they're implanted with. I struggled with the mechanics of some of the tech but that was definitely a "me" problem; I have the same issue with most sci-fi.

We follow seven teenagers (and one adult) from, I believe, four points of view; Alex, who gets been beaten senseless by a soldier because she’s resisting arrest for sharing her excess electricity with the immigrant family next door; Tio, daughter in said immigrant family, who knocks the soldier out to save Alex and has to go on the run to avoid deportation to a country she's never set foot in; Ruslan, the son of poor immigrants who gets kicked out of college the same day he gets a mysterious email offering him a new future; and later Felicity, Alex's privileged adopted sister who feels left out of Alex's life and is willing to go far out of her comfort zone to be back in it. There's also: Zoee, who got the same email as Ruslan; Berry, Alex's girlfriend and Tio's good friend; Olly, Tio's best friend; and Aston, Alex's friend in his 20's who acts as the groups de facto leader.

So, that’s a lot of main characters. A lot of main characters with similar politics and traumas, all working towards vaguely the same goal. In the hands of a lesser author they likely would’ve all bled together but Drever gives each such a unique perspective and voice, introduces each in such a natural way, that I never once mixed anyone up. I fell in love with every character as an individual and when they all came to work together it was exciting and fascinating to see the different personalities I had come to know interacting. The characters are truly what drive this story; they are beautifully three-dimensional and flawed. They’re teenagers, and they act like it. They fuck up— boy, do they fuck up big time— but they’re just normal kids with an unwavering sense that what is happening is wrong and that it’s up to them to fix things.

There are two main events that kick the book off: Tio defending her neighbor Alex and subsequently going on the run with the help of her friends, and Ruslan receiving the email offering him a chance to change not only his life but the course of history. For roughly the first half of the book, Ruslan and Zoee are training, building skills, and getting used to their new reality after the email-sender introduces some pretty huge changes in their lives, while Tio is on the run with the help of her friends. However, later in the book Tio turns herself in to save her mom from deportation and it begins to feel like a heist story, a heist to save Tio and hundreds of other immigrants and children of immigrants who’ve been imprisoned by the government for minor crimes.

The future London Drever has created is incredibly immersive. For the first few chapters I felt like I’d been transported into a hyper-realistic video game cutscene. In fact, much of the book has a Detroit: Become Human-esque vibe that made it intense but also a lot of fun. Indeed, Panacea is fun, but wow, is it also heavy. There are some dark, dark scenes. (In fact, I strongly suggest you check the content warning at the end of this review before reading.) It doesn’t shy away from the realities of living in an oppressive, racist police state, which only served to make the story that much more real. I wouldn’t really call this a thriller in the typical sense of the word, but more than once it had my heart hammering, reading frantically, and forcing myself not to skip ahead to find out what happens. The characters became like friends and the situations they were put in were nothing short of harrowing to read.

Prepare to have your heart broken with this one. The ending truly destroyed me. In fact, one scene in particular actually made me shout “NO!” out loud at the screen. It would’ve been so easy to give everyone in this story a happily ever after, but that’s not the reality of the world, and if you go into Panacea expecting everyone to come out happy and smiling you’re in for an unpleasant surprise. If you go in expecting it to reflect reality and the horrors of capitalism and xenophobia this will be right up your alley. Panacea is violent for a young adult book but it’s neither gratuitous nor sugar-coated. Just real.

Something to mention: the representation in this book is phenomenal and nuanced. Nearly every character is a racial minority, queer, or both, all written in such a way that this is simply a fact of who they are and never a stand-in for their personality. It’s quite an experience, as someone who grew up a closeted bisexual with absolutely no positive representation of my sexuality in young adult books at the time. After falling completely head-over-heels in love with Panacea I read a short story written by the author as well, and found more beautifully done, casual queer representation. Charli Drever is now officially on my “must read everything they put out forever” list along with Tamsyn Muir and Xiran Jay Zhao.

All in all, I was left with a tenuous conclusion to the story of Build 1.0, a sense that, while my heart was broken, these kids were on the path to sparking an incredible revolution, and a deeply burning desire to read Build 2.0 to find the answers to the questions that remained.

Content warnings: violence (extreme, graphic), police violence/beating (graphic), racism (constant), xenophobia (extreme, constant), police intimidation, violent death, military violence, body augmentation via technology, mutilation of a corpse, parental intimidation, state violence and oppression, concentration camps, neglect of prisoners
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I really enjoyed this book I found it engaging and hard to put down. It had an intriguing storyline and it didnt disappoint on delivery.
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This was queer sci fi at its finest. Gripping characters brimming with intrigue and glittered with diversity. I adored Charli Drever's debut, and for a self-published title, this felt every bit on par with something from a big-league author. Great work here.
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