I remember the first time I saw Bladerunner. I sat down with my dad, snacks within reach, and we watched it from start to finish without a word spoken between us. At the end, my dad turned to me and asked me what I thought. Still buzzing, and my brain still racing over what I had just witnessed, all I could manage was a soft whisper.
"That was awesome..."
I was reminded of that moment when I read Squid's Grief. Both Bladerunner and Squid's Grief share a heritage. A sprawling metropolitan... a dystopian society... and gangs and crime out of control. I'm a sucker for that sort of thing. I love cyberpunk stories... their fusion of high tech with low life... societal breakdown alongside wondrous things like cybernetics. And when Mok introduced touches of noir to the mix I knew I was going to enjoy this book. And enjoy it I did!
Squid's Grief is a wonderful example of a character driven story. Everything revolves around Squid and Grief, and their evolving relationship interaction with other characters as the story unfolds. And as I ripped through this book I was constantly amazed by Mok's ability to write a riveting tale without too much exposition or explanation. There is very little telling, but a helluva lot of showing. Both Squid and Grief themselves are amazing characters. Both provoke deep sympathy and emotion from the reader, and both have incredibly powerful agency throughout the story. I was especially impressed with Mok's ability to portray an amnesiac (Grief) slowly learning about himself and his latent abilities as events spiral out of control around him. The other points of view are also impressive. I really enjoyed Casey and her friendship with Squid, despite the fact that they are the opposites (Casey is a cop) of each other.
What took this story to another level however was the depiction of Baltus City. Mok takes a setting, and brings it alive to the point where it becomes another 'character' in the book. I was riveted by the tidbits about this environment, and its futuristic vividness placed alongside its seething slums and crime regions really drove home how organic and alive it was.
The action sequences were also brilliantly conceived and choreographed, and the pace relentless and uncompromising. Where this book is let down, in my opinion, is that the pace is TOO relentless towards the end. As I blazed through the final third I just felt that the story came off the tracks a little and went over the top with its ending. Mok could have arguably reined it in and finished with story with just as much impact without the disjointed feeling. Overall though this was a minor issue, and didn't really detract too much from my enjoyment of this well crafted tale. I still am amazed at how well Mok writes, despite being relatively new on the scene.
If you love cyberpunk fiction you will adore this book. If you enjoy noir stories with shifting allegiances and twists you will adore this story. Frankly, if you love good fiction you will find something in this exciting tale.
A scintillating cyberpunk tale with impressive elements of noir fiction and action thrillers, Squid's Grief continues to showcase the rise of a future mainstay of Australian speculative fiction.
4 out of 5 stars.
You could find out more about Squid's Grief here. Also, be sure to check out Mok's other work. Hunt for Valamon is especially superb.