Chained - Susanne Valenti In a world that has been contaminated by genetic engineering, the story opens on the young woman Maya who, we learn early on, has been left an orphan through a tragic lab accident claiming both her scientist parents. In the walled “safety” of Harbour City where she lives, this condemns her to a bare existence of closet sized living quarters and extreme prejudice from her more favored counter parts. The continued friendship of the well placed young man, Taylor, and his parents are really the bright spots to a pretty dismal existence. As the tale unfolds, we find that though there are others who can aspire to and do live in better circumstances, everyone is required to make sacrifices. Food is rationed, left overs or scraps are unheard of. Space is at a premium, to the point that a single family dwelling from the past is surmised to have housed dozens of people. Also there a rules for everything, or rather for “the good of the population”. The only sentences provided by the penal code are televised fights to death, called Sub Wars, from which only a very few have the hope of returning from to citizenship and city life.

A series of unfortunate decisions send Maya and Taylor to Sub Wars where they meet the Warden Laurie whose job is to train them to survive the battles not realizing that that there is an entirely different path waiting for all of them. What follows is a fast paced adventure filled with mutant humans, nocturnal predators and plant life that can protect itself.

In the beginning the story is a bit stilted, with a lot of exposition fit into the conversations and relationships between the characters and the situation that lands Maya and Taylor into trouble seems far fetched given the strictures of their society. However once the story leaves the city, it and the characters move full speed ahead, being both enjoyable and intense.

There is always the chance of becoming preachy when dealing with an ecosystem apocalypse. I happy to say that wasn’t the case here. Instead, the story is a surprisingly original take on the theme.

Poor Taylor seems to be more of a plot device, at times, than a character and some of the outside characters, such as Baba, could stand to be fleshed out a bit more. The reader has to trust in the main characters experience when dealing with them. Luckily those characters, Coal in particular, come across as trustworthy. There is plenty of unwritten back story begging to be told and I imagine plenty more story to come.