My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Rebirth is an ambitious and exciting beginning to the Praegressus Project series. This series, by New Zealand author Aaron Hodges, is in the same vein as The Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner, and other dystopian near-future fiction that puts teams of young adults through a series of brutal tests, the purpose and origins of which only become clearer to the protagonist and the reader as the story unfolds.
The writing is serviceable, spare, and cinematic in nature. One could easily imagine this story in film, as it moves from dark city landscapes to the testing and experiment cages to the open mountains. Where I wish the author had taken more advantage of the novel’s form is in the characters’ thoughts. He seems to be going for more of an ensemble cast than a single protagonist, and I liked that about this story. However, with more viewpoint characters, the writing challenges increase exponentially, and this book is a little too short and spare to do them all justice. There is also a lot of action in this novel, much of it violent and some of it repetitive. It may be just a personal taste of mine, but I would have liked to see more of the characters sitting around thinking, talking, and planning and less of seeing them getting beat up, getting killed, or killing someone else.
The cage setup strikes me as extremely artificial and yet not well thought-out, always having partnerships of one boy and one girl. I would like to understand more about why the government set their experiments up this way. As it is, it seems more like a set-up for some obligatory romance and sex scenes between tortured teenagers than a calculated manipulation intended to breed the ultimate warriors that will save humanity. In general the governmental experimenters are too one-dimensional. Halt, in particular, comes across as a cartoon villain rather than a complex human being who has made a series of choices that have led him away from his own humanity.
That said, there are some wonderful and moving scenes in this novel. The author does a better job than most with explaining the fictional science in his world and making it believable. I also found the ending uplifting and full of possibility and wonder. It made me look forward to the next book in the series, where the characters promise to come into their own.