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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

“Veracity” by Laura Bynum (Reviewed by Robert Thomson)

Official Laura Bynum Website
Order “VeracityHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Laura Bynum has completed her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Communications at the University of Illinois and Eastern Illinois University. In 2006, Laura won the Rupert Hughes Literary Writing Award at the Maui Writer’s Conference. “Veracity” is her first novel.

PLOT SUMMARY: Harper Adams was six years old in 2012 when the Pandemic wiped out one-half of the country’s population. Out of the ashes rose a new government, the Confederation of the Willing, dedicated to maintaining order at any cost. The populace is controlled via government-sanctioned sex and drugs, a brutal police force known as the Blue Coats, and a device called the slate, a mandatory implant that monitors every word a person speaks. To utter a forbidden, Red-Listed word is to risk physical punishment, or even death.

But there are those who resist. Guided by the fabled Book of Noah, they are determined to shake the people from their apathy and ignorance, and are prepared to start a war in the name of freedom. The newest member of this resistance is Harper—a woman driven by memories of a daughter lost, a daughter whose very name was erased by the Red List. And she possesses a power that could make her the underground warriors’ ultimate weapon—or the instrument of their destruction...

FORMAT/INFO:Veracity” is 384 pages divided over nine sections—each section is titled after a ‘Red Word’, followed by that word’s definition: Apostasy, Heresy, Obstreperous, etc.—and twenty-seven numbered/dated chapters. Narration is in the first-person, exclusively via the protagonist Harper Adams. “Veracity” is self-contained, but with room for possible sequels. January 5, 2010 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “Veracity” via Pocket Books. ARC provided by the publisher upon request.

ANALYSIS: ve-rac-i-ty: habitual observance of truth in speech or statement; truthfulness; conformity to truth or fact.

Veracity is the name of Harper Adams’ eleven-year-old daughter for whom the protagonist will sacrifice everything for; one of the nine Red Listed words used to title the book’s sections; and one of the ideals preached by the resistance. It is also the title of Laura Bynum’s impressive debut, a future dystopian novel in the vein of Fahrenheit 451, The Children of Men, 1984, and Brave New World.

Like those books, “Veracity” takes current real-world issues (censorship, critical thinking, terrorism, loss of privacy, etc) and envisions a future gone wrong. In this case, a world decimated by a Pandemic and governed by a tyrannical regime. Where people are policed by slates (identification modules embedded in the neck recording everything people do and regulating speech via the Red Word system), fear, and the dreaded Blue Coats who are basically given free reign to conduct punishments (interrogation, mutilation, rape, torture, murder) in any manner they deem fit. Where free sex, religion, the antidepressant Occlusia, and booze are the people’s only outlet. Where advertising, music, poems, libraries, fiction novels, self-expression, freedom and so on are unknown concepts. In short, Laura Bynum has envisioned a truly frightening world, one that is vividly realized and the novel’s greatest strength, although there were a few matters that could have used further clarification.

Unfortunately, “Veracity” is pretty run-of-the-mill story-wise. A resistance rising up against an oppressive government; a protagonist fighting for a new world for her child; people who should dislike each other falling in love; traitors; precognitive abilities—astral projection, the ability to see auras (colors) of people & things and glean knowledge from them . . . it’s all been done countless times before. To make matters worse, Laura Bynum plays things so safe that the outcomes of the book’s most pressing questions—Can Harper pinpoint the master redactor in time? Will the resistance succeed? Will Harper ever see her daughter again?—are never in doubt, thus deflating any suspense or tension the book could have had. On the positive side, Laura drops a couple of nice surprises in the second half of the novel, and I really enjoyed the non-linear narrative which skillfully jumps between the present day (August 2045) when Harper is joining the resistance as they go to war, and the past (2012, 2023, 2026, etc) like when the Pandemic first struck, Harper’s recruitment as a Monitor, and the various events that led to her disillusionment of the Confederation.

Characterization meanwhile, was a mixed bag with the protagonist Harper Adams richly portrayed and possessing an accessible narrative voice. On the flipside, I never cared for Harper as much as I should have, and I thought her relationship with both her daughter Veracity and her recruiter John Gage were vastly underdeveloped. As a result, I didn’t believe in the romance that blossoms between Harper and John, and was underwhelmed by her motivations for joining the resistance. Plus, the supporting cast felt clichéd and uninteresting in comparison to Harper.

In the end, even though “Veracity” covers a number of familiar themes and ideas; suffers from a routine plot, safe storytelling, and uneven characterization; and doesn’t realize its full potential as a novel; Laura Bynum’s debut is a very strong first effort. In particular, “Veracity” is well-written, thought-provoking, and powerfully relevant. Definitely a novel worth checking out and a new author to watch...


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