This Mortal Coil, by Emily Suvada
To say I’m not the biggest fan of the YA (Young Adult) genre would be a fairly accurate statement. In YA books, I find the romance quite often overwhelms the actual plot, and the personalities of the characters seem to be based entirely around their relationships. I realised a while back that this genre was just not for me. That being said, I recently discovered a YA book that wasn’t quite like the rest.
Without further ado, let me introduce you to ‘This Mortal Coil’. Set in a world plagued by a lethal airborne virus, commonly known as Hydra, the plot centres around Catarina “Cat” Agatta. A series of flashbacks show that Cat was the daughter of Lachlan Agatta, the designer of the Influenza X vaccine and one of the world's best geneticists and foremost authorities on DNA. In a world where people are born with inbuilt panels, which they subsequently use to hack their genes, Lachlan’s knowledge was an invaluable resource. After the outbreak of Hydra, he had been kidnapped by Cartaxus, the government organization that had sprung up after the start of the worldwide pandemic. Cartaxus hoped that he would be able to recreate his previous work and come up with a vaccine against the Hydra virus before everyone was dead. As her father and best friend were dragged away by the Cartaxus forces, Cat managed to evade capture by hiding in the panic room of the house.
That was more than two years ago.
Now hardened by the harsh realities of living with the Hydra virus, Cat is settling into her new normal. However, her entire life is disrupted by the sudden arrival of a certain Lieutenant Cole Franklin. Within hours, Cat’s life is thrown into disarray yet again. He bears the tragic news of her father’s death. Barely has she had time to grieve his demise when Cole drops the second bomb of the day. Before his death, her father had created a vaccine to the Hydra virus, but he had encrypted it and hidden it from Cartaxus as he feared they would control its release and only give it to those who lived in the Cartaxus bunkers (underground bunkers where people could take refuge from the virus.) Now, it is up to Cat to decrypt and release the vaccine to the masses. The only clues she had were the ones her father had hidden inside Cole’s panel. The message in Cole's panel takes them on a cross country trip, with danger lurking around every corner. Cat discovers more secrets about her father as she gets closer to unlocking the vaccination. And each one tears at the frail fabric of what was once her life. Doubts arise and Cat begins to question the motives of the man she used to call her father.
Well, that was a dramatic, yet accurate, description of the plot.
Now let me come to some of the other features of the book. This book is the first in a trilogy. So far I’ve read the first two books and I absolutely loved them. Yes, this book does follow some typical YA tropes - such as the death of a parent, the uncovering of dark secrets as well as the unsavoury past of said parent, the presence of an evil organization that isn’t as bad as it seems, and of course, a romance that blossoms between the two leads as they are bonded by a shared trauma. These – the romance, the drama, the incredibly angst filled confrontations - were the very factors that had put me off YA books initially. However, this was one of the first books in a long time that I found myself completely engrossed by.
I think I finished the book in two sittings, and I was kind of stunned by what I had just read. To me, the appeal of the book lay in the fact that the entire book was set in our world as we know it, except in this world people use computer panels and genkits to change or hack their genes. Everything from ocular enhancement to physical features can be changed. Budded with panels from birth, people never really know what living by simply relying on their instincts and senses is like. The book contains equal parts biology and computer science, thus appealing to two different sides of the spectrum.
As a person who loves biology, the entire concept of gene hacking was mind blowing. The complex technical and scientific aspects that lay at the core of the book, were explained quite lucidly and in simple words. . My initial scepticism melted away with each new element of the plot that was introduced.
Now, to be fair, the biological aspect wasn’t the only part that I loved. The plot twists were phenomenal. And when I say phenomenal, I mean phenomenal. Secondly, the romance didn’t completely overshadow the plot. That was something I appreciated greatly. If I’m being fair, during some of the slower parts of the book, the romance was what kept me going. The whole ‘will they, won’t they’ drama was a tad dramatic, but let’s be honest, it had the inner teenage girl in me squealing.
And finally, the ending set everything up perfectly for a second book. It didn’t end on a cliff-hanger; but instead stopped at a logical point that leaves you wanting more. For readers of the YA genre, this is a must-read. For those who have hesitated, I would strongly recommend them to pick this book, for it splices YA, medicine, technology, and elements of a mystery into a most readable page-turning experience.
Publisher: Penguin UK (1 January 2017)
Paperback: 464 pages
© 2022, Anika Agarwal. All rights reserved.