This book was different, in both good and bad ways. It’s a science fiction book in terms of its setting, but the story was really more of a murder mystery than anything else. It’s set in the Middle East, during the year 2172, and most of the story takes place in a ghetto area. Most of the characters at least pretend to follow the Islam religion, so there were a lot of references to that and it played a role in how the characters interacted with each other. I don’t know if this was portrayed realistically or not, but this was one of the ways in which the book was different in a good way. The ghetto aspect, on the other hand, made the setting kind of grim and unpleasant, and we don’t really see much beyond that small area to learn what life is like in the rest of the world, beyond a few hints about the political climate.
The main futuristic aspect of the setting is that most people have been surgically altered to give them the ability to hook up modifications to their brain that would either give them special knowledge or abilities, or which would give them an entirely different personality. The idea of gender has also become somewhat blurred, because sex change operations are apparently easy to obtain and quite effective. There seemed to be a disproportionate number of female prostitutes in this book who had been born as men. Aside from those things, technology seemed pretty close to what it was in 1987 when the book was written.
Our main character, Marîd, is one of few people who aren’t “wired” to use modifications. While I totally can’t blame him for not wanting to mess with his brain, he’s a drug addict who pops pills left and right, so it’s hard to identify with his anti-modification viewpoint when he’s already messing with his brain and undoubtedly doing plenty of permanent damage to it. Aside from that, Marîd is a decent guy who cares about his friends, but I never really warmed up to him or felt invested in any of his friendships. The story held my interest, but I didn’t care enough about the characters to care too much about what happened.
This book is the first in a trilogy, but it tells a complete story while setting the stage for the next book. I wasn’t too crazy for how the story was wrapped up, and there was one particular bit that was a little horrifying. It left me debating whether to rate this 3 stars, as I’d originally intended, or 2.5. I decided to go with 3 since that’s a more accurate reflection of my overall enjoyment level. In any case, I didn’t enjoy this enough to want to read more of the series.