Imagine a world in the not too distant future, with a truly dystopian big-brother-is-watching type of society. Add in a caste-like system in the new city-states in the United States, and a government sponsored, human genetic manipulation program. Now imagine that there is a sovereign theocratic “country” bordered by these city-states and you get just a hint of the setting for Broken Angel by Sigmund Brouwer.
Broken Angel is the first in the Caitlyn Brown series and focuses on the life of a young girl. Caitlyn knows that she is different and honestly believes this difference is due to her physical deformities. Her father, Jordan, has kept her relatively isolated but knows that she must venture “outside” Appalachia to receive the medical assistance she requires. The only things that can potentially stop their escape to “the outside” are the bounty hunters on their trail. Jordan forces Caitlyn to run by herself, hoping that she’ll stick to the map he’s provided and his instructions. He hopes to lay a false trail giving her time to get as far away as possible.
After Jordan is captured, Sheriff Mitch Carney acknowledges that all is not as it should be in his small town. People are required to carry vidpods (presumably similar to iPods) at all times to receive special notices and bulletins from their leader, Bar Elohim. Each town in Appalachia is limited in size to three thousand people, because smaller towns are easier to control. Cars are few and far between due to government fuel rationing. In addition, cars are equipped with monitoring devices so that the religious leadership can determine where a vehicle has been and/or monitor all conversations. There are no phones, no televisions and no contact with the outside. There is a death penalty for reading, owning books or teaching others to read. Horses and some people are chipped so that the leadership knows where they are or can track their movements.
Casper Pierce is a government agent from the outside sent into Appalachia to capture Caitlyn. He is assisted by a local bounty hunter and thug, Mason Lee. Pierce and Lee don’t get along at all and the situation is exasperated when Pierce intentionally injures Lee to make a point.
Deputy Billy Jasper has always done as told and the leadership told him to begin working as a deputy. He doesn’t know why exactly but goes with the flow. Unfortunately Billy gets caught between Caitlyn and some bounty hunters and reluctantly joins her in her quest to reach the “outside.” Theo is another runaway, a visually impaired, that is running from the harsh treatment received as part of his sentence to work in the factory. Billy, Theo and Caitlyn make for an unlikely trio but it works. Their fight to survive and elude the bounty hunters forges a strong bond of friendship and trust.
The idea of genetic modification is hinted at throughout the story, but I felt that the primary focus was on providing the groundwork for the next installment in this series. Broken Angel is a well-crafted dystopian read that openly discusses the problems with religion as a force majeure. The characters are all well developed. It’s difficult to discern the good guys from the bad guys for a while but it is important to take each person at face value because circumstances change rapidly and someone that might start off in a bad light becomes heroic. There’s a lot going on in this story and the subplots often overlap, but this never causes any confusion. Broken Angel starts a little slow but quickly picked up and kept me engaged until the end. Thankfully I was able to immediately begin reading the next installment in this series, Shadow of Flight.