by Gerald Brandt
Kris isn't thrilled to receive a last-minute courier job that will take her across and through the traffic of the sprawling LA megacity. And that's even before she realizes that the job has put her directly in the center of a plot involving corporate intrigue, hired thugs, and gruesome murder. It isn't long before she's using all of her courier skills to evade the killers sent to silence her.
I found The Courier's setting and synopsis utterly captivating. A gritty, near-future dystopian world of overbuilt cities ruled by warring corporations? Intrigue, schemes, and chases? A cyberpunk, tech-infused plot? Unfortunately, however, The Courier just wasn't a good fit for me.
The plot itself is fast-paced, and while like many thrillers, the events themselves don't necessarily make sense and many of the characters indulge in bouts of extreme plot-supporting stupidity, there's certainly enough action to go around. I also thoroughly enjoyed the worldbuilding. In Brandt's future, urban sprawl has bound all of coastal California into one multi-layered megacity. The city itself is divided into multiple levels, with worst conditions on Level 1 and only the top level, restricted to the wealthy, open to the sky.
I suspect most of my discontent is due to characterization, and, in particular, Kris's state as perennial victim. From the start, Kris is desperate, on the run, out of options, trapped in a situation she can't understand or control. She is the pawn of greater forces, repeatedly running from protector to protector, always desperate, always the victim. She talks about a time "When I thought I couldn't get by without someone, a man, to help me," but in my opinion, she never made it out of that mindset. To do Brandt credit, Kris's lack of agency is acknowledged in the novel, and in fact forms a significant part of her inner monologue:
"Even though what was happening was different, the feelings were almost the same. I had become a victim again."
Kris's role as victim is, in fact, integral to her character. Rape makes an appearance in both her backstory and in the plot itself. Sure, the narration involves stock phrases such as"I took the memories and locked them away with the tears," but the whole thing felt viscerally wrong to me. I strenuously object to the common practice of using rape threats and "close calls" to increase suspense, or using sexual abuse to create hyperbolically tragic backstory for characters. The scenes were described with what felt to me like a distasteful relish, and Kris's reactions felt off. There was one scene in particular, where she is in a house with a man she finds attractive and leaves the bathroom door unlocked while she showers, and thinks ruefully,
"But it may as well have been locked. Miller didn't even stick his head in to make sure I had a towel. I wasn't sure if I should be disappointed or relieved."
Not sure whether to be disappointed or relieved that the guy she's attracted to isn't a sick creeper who would watch her while she showers the blood off her injuries? Really? Maybe that reaction is due to her history of sexual abuse, but if so, it's never confronted in the novel.
The Courier's plot is intriguing. While it unfortunately was a miss for me, if the issues I've described aren't triggers for you and you're looking for a fast-paced story, The Couriermay be worth a look.
~~I received a copy of this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Berkeley Publishing Group, in exchange for my (depressingly) honest review. Quotes are taken from an advanced reader copy and while they may not match the final version, I believe they speak to the spirit of the novel as a whole.~~