When Alison wakes up in a psych ward, she has a hard time figuring out what’s happened. Then it dawns on her: she’s admitted to killing her classmate Tori. The problem is that Alison remembers arguing with Tori and watching her as she suddenly evaporated into thin air. As Alison works with a mysterious psychologist to figure out what’s going on with her and what happened to Tori, she starts to realize that there might be more questions than she can ever find answers for.
R.J. Anderson’s latest offering is a perplexing, twisty romp through one girl’s unique life. Firmly ensconced in the soft-sci-fi genre, this book is well-paced, intelligent, and plotted with care. Although fans of harder science-fiction might take issue with Anderson’s explanations and loosely rendered world-building, most readers will be able to overlook this and revel in Anderson’s unique prose, strong characters, and creative story. This is a pleasurable read.
Characterization is done exceedingly well in this novel, and this is especially true in the case of Alison. Anderson describes her synesthesia in a way that makes it real not only for Alison but for the reader as well. The fact that Alison can taste lies and see colors for numbers and letters is hard to swallow for a reader unfamiliar with her condition, but Anderson’s descriptive language makes it very real with highly visual writing. Alison’s inability to accurately judge the perceptions and motivations of others makes her an unreliable narrator, and while Anderson occasionally makes her a little too obtuse in order to build suspense, she’s still a compelling character.
The interpersonal relationships Alison forms while under psychiatric care are also worth examining. Anderson shies away from making any of the characters too stereotypical and often presents some nice little twists and trope subversions that keep the writing and story fresh. It’s clear these characters were treated with care.
Some readers will struggle with the plot twist that occurs about 3/4ths of the way through the book, but if you pay attention throughout, it shouldn’t be too much of a shock. This is a fun, smart read, guaranteed to entertain. Recommended.
Ultraviolet will be released September 1, 2011.
Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson. Orchard Books: 2011. Electronic galley accepted for review via Netgalley.