by Kelley Eskridge
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Kelley Eskridge's debut novel, Solitaire, begins with a feeling that it is reminiscent of Nancy Kress's Beggars in Spain. However, while both books appear to deal with humans who are raised to be of a sort of super-human quality, Kress with her Sleepless and Eskridge with her Hopes, it quickly becomes apparent that Solitaire is going in a completely different direction. Perhaps more importantly, Eskridge's Hopes, at least Ren Segura, the protagonist, appears more intelligent, competent and likable than Leisha Camden from Beggars in Spain.
Ren Segura, known also as Jackal, is the Hope of Ko, a position which is never adequately described, but it appears to be a child born in the first moment of the new year upon whom the hopes of the future will rest. It seems that each country has its own Hope, and Ko is a corporation which has been accorded sovereign status in this new world. Shortly before her investiture as a Hope in Al Iskandariyah, Jackal learns a devastating truth about herself which sets her onto an almost self-destructive path culminating in a carefree outting to Hong Kong with her web (another feature which, like the Hopes, is never fully defined) that results in Jackal's imprisonment as a terrorist. In fact, this last aspect of the plot is the most troublesome, although Eskridge eventually managed to pull a rabbit out of her hat and provide a reasonable explanation for the charges against Jackal and her plea agreement.
The novel really gets rolling once Jackal is released from her virtual reality solitary confinement and must learn to acclimatize herself to a world which has no place for people like her. She retains her knowledge and abilities and has the desire to use them, although that desire is thwarted at every stage by the world around her, from her case-worker to the executives at companies that would like her skills, but not her notoriety. The only weakness in this part of the novel is the comparison between her post incarcerated life and her life on Ko. Eskridge does not provide enough detail of her life on Ko, especially her relationship with her lover, Snow. Enough can be inferred for the changes to be understood, but there is no emotional tie to the version of Jackal that was lost while she was in isolation.
Eskridge plays with numerous themes throughout the novel, from loneliness, one of the most important themes, to the use of technology to cure society's ills before the technology has been proven. Despite the latter theme, Solitaire does not come across as a Luddite novel. Eskridge appears to be asking that caution be exercised, but ultimately embraces science and technology as a means of improving society. Nor does Eskridge take an anti-corporate viewpoint, despite the underhanded tricks Ko plays on Jackal throughout the novel. In the end, Jackal believes herself capable of taking what Ko taught her and turn it around on her erstwhile employers.
While the first first half parts of Solitaire may be slow moving, they do set the theme, although not completely, for the more detailed and intriguing second half. Eskridge demonstrates a strong ability to write at novel length, something not all short story writers are capable of doing. Solitaire is an excellent debut novel which shows signs of potential and pegs Eskridge as a novelist to watch.
Purchase this book from .