August 30, 2010

Who Wants To Live Forever? (Review: The Legacy, Gemma Malley)

The Legacy
Gemma Malley
Bloomsbury 2010

When a Pincent Pharma lorry is ambushed by the Underground, its contents come as a huge surprise - not drugs, but corpses in a horrible state. It appears Longevity isn't working and the drugs promising eternal youth are failing to live up to their promises. A virus is sweeping the country, killing in its wake, and Longevity is powerless to fight it. When Richard Pincent of Pincent Pharma suggest that the Underground has released the virus, something has to be done to put the story straight and once and for all alert everyone to the truth.
(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

While I enjoyed the first two books in Gemma Malley's dystopian series (The Declaration and The Resistance), I approached The Legacy with some trepidation. Not because I expected it to be bad, but because I expected it to be bleak to the point of misery. I was absolutely right, but far from putting the book down I carried on until the end, curious to see how the story would end.

The strength of this series has always been the simplicity of the concept. Our protagonists (of whom there are four by this point) live in a world where a drug, Longevity, prolongs human life indefinitely. In order to prevent over population, reproduction is severely monitored with all non-sanctioned children referred to as surplus and treated pretty appallingly both by the authorities and by Pincent Pharma – the pharmaceutical giant behind the drug. As The Legacy starts off, most of the main characters are scattered around the country hidden by the underground network fighting against Pincent Pharma. The storyline itself is a success. After fighting so hard to escape Richard Pincent (owner of the Longevity name) and his minions, all the protagonists seem to be drawn inexorably closer to Pincent Pharma and the sense of tension is palpable. The author cleverly switches points of view not only between protagonists Peter, Anna, Jude and Sheila but also throws in sections from Richard Pincent, his daughter and Julia (who provides a vital look over the fence to how the other side lives). This creates a very detailed picture of events, seen from all angles and adds depth to what is a pretty slim volume.

The characters are as compelling as they have been in the previous installments. With the exception of Pincent and his heavies, no character is entirely good or bad. Peter remains the most enigmatic of the group, frustrated by the quietness of family life and desperate to be on the front line, regardless of his other responsibilities. Anna remains as constant and convicted as ever, driven by her dreadful past to create a better future for the children in her care. Jude shows promise, but lacks confidence – letting himself down by comparing himself ceaselessly to Peter while Sheila remains traumatised despite showing signs of a backbone when given the right motivation. The older characters are no less interesting. I particularly liked Julia. It was interesting to see the events from the point of view of someone who had always taken Longevity. She considers things with an increasing clearness of mind that is gratifying to watch develop. However, none of the characters are particularly likable as none have been left untarnished by the events of their lives. Peter can come across as selfish, Anna is clearly damaged by her childhood, Jude's lack of confidence verges on paranoia and Sheila is infuriatingly weak and childlike. It shows real guts, on the part of Gemma Malley, to write such flawed characters and shows further skill that it is still possible to root for them right to the end. And the denouement is nothing less than gripping. While I could see where the story was going from fairly early on, it never became predictable enough for me to guess the ending. During the climax of the book, Malley takes her flawed characters to a whole new level, introducing real questions on morality, science and whether the suffering of a some can ever be excused by the salvation of others.

The story ends quietly and in a way that I am not entirely sure I understood, with the final motivations of one particular character suddenly seeming less clear than I had thought – the last few lines could be read as sinister or innocent, depending on your feelings about the rest of the story. It's a very clever, very downbeat way to end the trilogy. The Legacy is not the kind of book that you might particularly enjoy, but it throws up fascinating questions on family, human nature and the progress of science. Be warned that this is not a happy story but it is one that will give you plenty to think about and the series as a whole is an interesting, if relentlessly grim, addition to the dystopian cannon.

Thank you to Bloomsbury for sending me this title to review.

6 comments:

Lenore said...

I had significant problems with the second book in this series, so I am not sure if I want to read this or not!

Splendibird said...

I also had questions marks over The Resistance - particularly the theme of teenage pregnancy running through it but tried to treat this one as a story in its own right. Still have those questions overall though...

kirsty at the overflowing library said...

i loved this book too! a real thinker

Lauren said...

Weirdly, while your review is fascinating, I'm not sure how interested I am to read this now. I really liked the first two, but it doesn't sound like this one has the earth-shattering conclusion I was kind of hoping for. However, I do like *dark*. I'm torn.

Splendibird said...

Lauren, I felt exactly the same about reading this - totally ambivalent. I'm glad that I did, and it's an interesting read, but a little odd in the end. It does fit perfectly with the first two when you look at it as an overall story arch, though.

Splendibird said...

Story arc even....