I feel like I should have enjoyed this more than I did. Normally I would say to take my opinions to heart, because I have fantastic taste, but this time it feels like my lukewarm feelings about this may be my own fault.
Firstly, I love the setting and the atmosphere. It takes place in a dystopian Thailand, in a future where fuel sources have run out and food has become scarce. Calorie companies control the production of genetically modified food, crops that have been designed to not produce seeds, and this has caused plague and crop failures to wipe out large parts of the population. The Environment Ministry controls food distribution, and the conflict comes from their struggle to keep that control.
One of the many viewpoint characters in this novel is Emiko, the windup girl from the title. She is a genetically modified person, a New Person, who is a slave in a sex club. She moves in a stuttered fashion, like a windup doll, which makes it difficult for her to hide what she is, and in Thailand New People are treated with mistrust and disgust. She leads an absolutely miserable life, but learns of a possible way out, and spends the novel trying to break her programmed instinct to serve and find a way to make her freedom happen.
There is a lot to like about this. The writing is beautiful at times, and the narrator, Jonathan Davis, is one of my favourites and does a great job with this, but something just didn’t come together for me. It just didn’t catch my interest, and it wasn’t until the last third of the book that I really began to care. I think it was partly due to the characters being too disconnected from each other for too long, which made it hard to know why I should care about them all. I just didn’t have any drive to see the outcome.
Also, as much as I loved the idea of the setting, I found the pace at which I learned about it was too slow. Part of my confusion over the characters’ connection to one another can be attributed to how long it took me to understand the world they were in. I really appreciate the lack of info-dumping, but I always felt like I should know more than I did. Which is entirely possible. It felt like I missed some important descriptions in the introduction of the novel.
As I said above, Jonathon Davis did an amazing job on the narration, and my only complaint on the audiobook specifically is that it started with an introduction by Paolo Bacigalupi. He discusses how he came to write the novel and the themes he was tackling, but it felt like the sort of thing that should have come after the novel. I like to go in to the story fairly fresh, without being told the aims of the author. Although, looking back, maybe I should have paid more attention to that.
Even though I wasn’t in love, I’d still recommend this to anyone interested in the setting.