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Review of HAYWIRE by Justin Macumber

October 23, 2012

HaywireHaywire by Justin R. Macumber

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Justin Macumber’s Haywire is a fast-paced space adventure that explores what can happen when the technology we use to protect ourselves is turned against us. While it has its ups and downs, the characters and their relationships layered over a humanity-threatening conflict makes this book well worth reading.

A century ago, super-soldiers known as Titans drove alien invaders from the solar system and back to their home world. Now the Titans have returned, infected by a virus and compelled to destroy humanity. Will a scholar, her son, and the only Titan able to resist the infection find a way to stop them and save humanity from its own greatest weapon?

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The opening chapter of Haywire fell flat for me, and I was a worried that it wouldn’t live up to expectations, but once I dug in a little deeper, I became thoroughly absorbed in the story of teenaged musician Shawn, his preoccupied museum director mother Dr. Alicia Campbell, and the nanotech supersoldier Artemis. The relationship between these three characters makes up the heart of the story, but it takes a while before you get to see the nuances.

The tense relationship between Shawn and his mother is portrayed very realistically, and made especially poignant because neither of them knows how to build the relationship that they both want. I was thrilled to see a story where the protagonist’s mother plays an important role in the story, and even more thrilled at how they interact with each other when both are put in danger. When Alicia has to make a decision that will change her son’s life, it’s not only the turning point of their relationship but of the whole story. I only wish she played a more active role in the last 25% of the story instead of merely serving as motivation for her son and her boyfriend.

Artemis, on the other hand, took a while to grow on me, in part because it’s so long before she has a chance to take an active role in the story. But once she comes into the lives of the Campbells, she changes everything. She serves as both role-model and foil to Shawn, a terse and pragmatic teacher who shows him how to take responsibility and become an active participant in his world, while he reveals in her the human being that she has all but forgotten underneath her armor.

I wasn’t as enamored of the space pirates as many other readers seem to be. They served their purpose as a catalyst for the story, and Captain Laroux’s utter ruthlessness definitely raised the stakes and ratcheted up the tension. However, the sympathetic pair of Gimble and Crowe never really drew me in the way I think they were supposed to. I couldn’t care about them the way I cared about the other characters, but the other side characters still gave me plenty to care about.

With so many people pursuing their own agendas and working at cross-purposes, there’s more than enough conflict—and personality—to go around, and the various threads come together in a very satisfying conclusion. Macumber did a good job of taking a solution that could have been too easy and keeping it suspenseful and, above all, personal for the characters. They had to work for every inch, and each character had a role to play and sacrifices to make.

While I feel that the epilogue was too abrupt and a little too neat—I would have preferred to see more of the immediate messy aftermath with only hints of what it would all mean for the future—I’m glad that there’s enough room to imagine how easily things could have turned out differently. It wasn’t an inevitable ending, and throughout the story there was a satisfying mix of familiar tropes with some unexpected turns that kept me on my toes.

Overall, Haywire is a solid story with characters and conflict that kept me engaged all the way through, and a surprisingly layered plot that left me with a lot to think about. After this first book, I’m looking forward to reading what else Justin Macumber will have to offer in the future.

View all my reviews

Listen to Justin Macumber‘s podcast for writers, the Dead Robots’ Society

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