Untrustworthy

Title: Untrustworthy

Author: J.R. Gershen-Siegel

Genres: Dystopia | Fantasy | Science Fiction

Length: 208 pages | 2093 locations

Source: Netgalley

Format: Mobi

Rating: 1.5/5

Premise:

Tathrelle is married to Ixalla, who is pregnant with their first children, and has just become a liaison, working for the government. Life seems to go wonderfully for her, until she begins waking up each day with altered memories. How can she tell what is real? Who is doing this and why?

Review:

When I first started reading Untrustworthy, I was like… What the heck are these beings??. They sounded humanoid, but only had either 3 or 4 fingers on their hands, depending on their gender, their mouths didn’t really move much other than stretching – which constituted as a smile even though the corners would not move -, their blood was teal, and their genitals were placed in their hands. Also, both women and men could get pregnant. Needless to say I was completely hooked.

In the beginning, the author managed to find just the right way to introduce the information the reader needs to know. Ixalla is a teacher and so we hear about Cabossian reproduction, for instance, along with her class.
Then there’s all these automated messages of government ‘encouragements’ people would hear everywhere they went. Totally Big Brother style, I loved it.

However, there was something about the writing that I could not appreciate, particularly in the dialogues. It made me wonder whether the writer is too young or if english is not her native language because it just did not flow.

There were three things in particular that did not work for me:

1) Constant stuttering.

Example:

We, we appeal to their patriotism as, as they can, they have a chance to do well for our people.

I would like to make it clear that this sort of going back and forth thing did not occur rarely, so it was not a fluke. It happened all the time, pages and pages of it. Can you imagine? My brain felt like it was hiccuping and it took me extra long to finish the book because of this.

2) A thorough lack of emotion.

The dialogues in particular were just awkward and sounded fake or rehearsed. The fact that there were a few exclamation points did not help, but that is my personal beef.
For instance, the first one I read featured Tathrelle and Ixalla, who are married, but did not sound that way at all. Their conversation came across as much too formal, and the phrasing was just awkward, stuff like I am sorry; I do not mean to be loud. They sounded more like co-workers or people just getting to know each other.

Let me give you another example:

Ixalla would often declare that she was sick of water and, at times, could not wait to be done and wanted to give birth already. But then she would smile and pull back and assure Tathrelle that she was only joking. The entire process was a joy.

First of all, sick of water? Umm. Isn’t everyone?
And then, is this supposed to be playful banter? Am I supposed to feel joy reading this? Or even smile? I just couldn’t. Average things like this frustrated the heck out of me. It felt like an edited version of real life, for children.

Ixalla and Tathrelle went through something dramatic shortly after the book began, and neither seemed to care much. And then Tathrelle goes through something absolutely insane: She wakes up one morning and the events of the previous day are reported to her by her wife in a completely different manner than she remembers it. The same happens at work. You’d think she would be bewildered, right? Perhaps in panic? No, she basically just goes oh, ok then. Sure, she has very vivid dreams, but the fact she cannot recall what supposedly actually happened instead of what she remembers should probably be a red flag??

It gets worse. The next morning she wakes up pregnant. Yes, instead of Ixalla, Tathrelle is the one who is pregnant. Obviously she goes ‘Whoa I am pregnant?? How the hell did this happen?’ (paraphrasing here, mind you). And you know what Ixalla replies? Yes, you silly girl, and you have been for months. In fact, you are not too far from being due to give birth. Do you not remember? And she proceeds to explain how she knocked her wife up. Do you not remember? As if they were discussing a wonderful place they went to or a delicacy they tried when they went abroad. Seriously, where is the emotion??

3) Information introduced in an awkward manner.

Tying in with the lack of emotion above mentioned, I cannot recall reading many descriptions like she frowned or she stuttered (that one not a single time, even though everyone stuttered all the time) or any other designation that would convey what was happening more thoroughly, to help figure out what the character was feeling, what was going through his or her mind. They struck me mostly as like blocks of ice.
While there were expressions which were repeated a lot, like you see, at times information was missing, such as in Tathrelle’s final conversation with Adger, when he immediately refutes her statement of having worked with him before, even though there was no such previous statement. And in her final confrontation with Velexio, she addresses him as Lieutenant, despite the fact that he has always been a General… There were others, but I took no further notes.

I had guessed a large part of the plot twists by the time the information was presented, like the identity of Student Number Five’s father and sibling, and the truth behind the war. I had not guessed how the Tathrelle’s memories were being altered (and I still don’t think the explanation was plausible) or the part that the ore played.

I am going to attribute all this to poor editing, especially since the formatting of the book was somewhat careless. There wasn’t even a table of contents. And I got sent the file in December last year, so I am hoping it has been revised and properly formatted since then, but this is the edition I am reviewing and I cannot be sure if that is the case anyway.

The world building in this book is insane, so I totally get where all the high ratings come from. The author has an enviable imagination! I think one of the things that will remain with me the most is the disembodied messages. The government encourages all citizens to do this and that. A insert whatever adjective serves its interests the best here citizen is a happy citizen.
Watching the messages evolve as the government’s agenda did, as well as how it affected the population, was positively daunting. The growing fear at even making the wrong comment, the constant pending violence and so much more grabbed my interest and attention. The beginning of the book is definitely the strongest bit.

But the writing just did not do it for me. Weird phrasing and formatting aside, overall, there was a lack of emotion in the writing that caused me not to relate to the characters at all.

Worst of all, I could not even see how the plot twist could explain all that had happened, so did not even feel closure to all the craziness going on. I am not even referring to the physical changes, as I am sure a rushed scientific justification for it could be found. But how could Adger find a way to make Tathrelle love him, and have 14 years of memories of a life shared with him? That sounds to me like implanted memories, not time travel. Especially since it was made clear that he had never actually been with her, even though she was pregnant with his kids?? And how could Ixalla one moment have one dead child in her womb and the next day have 4 perfect foetuses? What could have possibly been done to the past to cause that to happen?

The book has many good things. And it was utterly refreshing to read a story which actually focused on the dystopian aspect of society, as opposed to having it relegated to second plan in order to favour some rebellious teenager with a less than believable love affair.
Ultimately, too much was left unanswered, or addressed in a highly displeasing and unsatisfying manner. So I am going to have to strike this as yet another book which had an absolutely amazing premise, with breathtaking concepts reminiscent of the best dystopian literature, but was just not executed as well as it could have been.

Disclaimer: I would like to thank the publisher and Netgalley for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Read from Jun 23 to Jun 25, 2015
GR Review

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2 thoughts on “Untrustworthy

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