...and just like that, Madeline Ashby has instantly made it onto my list of must-read authors.
Company Town has all the trimmings of things I love. There's a good dash of sci-fi with some near-future razzle dazzle cybernetic augmentation, genetic engineering, Singularity conspiracy, and a nice heaping of serial killer mayhem to round it all off. The setting is wonderfully impressive (and forms the basis of that kick-ass cover!) - the titular Company Town is a city-sized oil rig off Newfoundland that has just been bought by the Lynch Corporation.
Hwa, a body-guard for the city's sex workers, has been brought on board to protect the youngest of the Lynch heirs after a series of death threats are made toward the boy. Hwa is a wonderful character in her own right, and deeply layered. Afflicted with Sturge-Weber, half her body is stained red; this genetic abnormality perfectly reflects and informs her personality. She's an outsider in Company Town both because of her physical imperfections and her choices. She's one of the ultra-rare denizens of Company Town to have absolutely no genetic modifications or cybernetic upgrades, which makes her an outcast. Her employment with Lynch only serves to further separate her from those she was once close to. She refers to her physical affliction as a stain, but it's a stain that runs bone-deep and straight up into her psyche as she struggles against being an outcast and fighting to remain at arm's length from the world around her. In Ashby's hands, Hwa is perfectly defined, as interesting and she is engaging.
Company Town is a great read, but primarily because of the characters. There's plenty of great ideas on display here, and plenty of room for future installments should Ashby be planning a series of this, but it's the cast and their relationships to one another that, first and foremost, make this book truly compelling.
[Note: I received an ARC of this title from the publisher via NetGalley.]