|The Pentrals by Crystal Mack, pub. November 2013, 246 pg.|
Antares follows people for a living. Her job is to track one person’s movements. She has to monitor them as closely as possible, and there are drastic consequences if she strays from her job.
No, Antares is not a spy or secret operative of some government organization. Instead, the main character of The Pentrals by Crystal Mack is something much more common – a shadow.
Antares is the Shadow assigned to Violet, a teenage girl living in the opulent, mirrored city of Talline. She is a Class Two Pentral, or a Shadow or Reflection assigned to mirror the movements of a living creature. She doesn’t feel emotions, and her only form of interaction is the brief moments she crosses paths with other Shadows and can exchange thoughts.
After tragedy strikes Violet’s group of friends, Antares begins to notice drastic changes in her Person. Violet becomes withdrawn and starts taking Lift! – a drug that makes it impossible for Antares to remember anything that happens afterwards.
Eventually, Antares has enough of Violet’s changed attitude and suddenly is filled with a blinding rage and tries to rip away from her Person. Violet falls and collides with the Shadow, and, after briefly losing consciousness, Antares wakes up in Violet’s body. Suddenly able to openly communicate, emote, and move freely for the first time, Antares comes face to face with a city-wide conspiracy and has to expose the truth before it is too late.
To say this book is unique would be an understatement. As soon as I realized the story was told from the point of view of a Shadow, I realized it was going to be unlike anything else I’d ever read. And I was right.
The futuristic setting is just one of the many appealing aspects of this book. In Talline, paper and ink are almost never used. Instead, everyone has Holopanes – tablet-like devices that are used to communicate, record events, browse databases, and do pretty much anything anyone could ever need. Instead of cars, citizens of Talline travel in self-driven carpods. Their technology is incredibly advanced, and it progresses even more throughout the course of the book.
The Pentrals handles a lot of topics that we all see daily. Body image and trying to understand what real love is are just two of the recurring themes. When Antares wakes up in Violet’s body, she realizes that her Reflection is hideous and monster-like, and, even though it looks nothing like Violet’s true appearance, she begins to believe that she really is ugly and unworthy of attention.
This book has a very unique love triangle. Because Antares spends some time inhabiting Violet’s body, everyone thinks she is Violet, including Violet’s boyfriend. However, Antares starts to have feelings for another boy and has to figure out how to cope with them without ruining Violet’s life.
One of Antares’s main struggles throughout the book is balancing what she thinks is right with what she thinks the real Violet would do in many of the situations. She occasionally communicates with Shadow Violet, but often she has to decide what the best course of action is on her own. Antares truly cares about Violet and doesn’t want to change her relationships, so she faces the challenge of weighing what she feels is right against what Violet would actually do.
Although it took me a little while to get into this book, once Antares’s complicated background was explained and the plot began picking up pace, I couldn’t put it down. As the story progresses, author Mack throws more and more balls into the air for her characters which makes the story even more gripping. As more challenges are placed in front of Antares, Violet, and their friends, it becomes even more interesting to see how things will turn out.
This book really brought out my inner sci-fi nerd. The Pentrals in their many forms are almost-but-not-quite-human creatures with unique personalities. Seeing how their lives intertwined with those of the people they are assigned to was one of my favorite aspects of this book. Even though it took a bit for the story to really get going, I think The Pentrals should definitely be on the must-read list of anyone who enjoys the sci-fi and fantasy genres.