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Though he was plunged into the limelight from the day he was conceived, Orpheus Chanson --- son of flighty pop diva Libellule and record company tycoon Harold Chanson --- has yet to get used to the mounting swell of attention and expectation. Or his friends' blind obsession with winning the public --- or at least the internet's --- interest. Or Harold's demand that his son risk a (sometimes) perilous surgery to reroute his brain into that of a musical genius. So when Harold vows to perform the surgery against his son's will, Orpheus flees to Nowhere, a forgotten ghost town beyond the glimmering center city.

"Zimri and Orpheus each boast enough psychological richness to keep you engaged through a few rereadings....H.A. Swain's dystopic romance is anything but boring."

Enter Zimri Robinson, a natural-born musical genius shackled to her grueling warehouse job, inescapable poverty and ailing grandma. At the novel's opening, however, Zimri has yet to harness --- or even acknowledge --- the subversive power of her natural-born genius. Instead, the 16-year-old prodigy hopes only to forget her dead-end job and (might-as-well-be) dead parents. But when an undercover Orpheus breaks into the gloom and monotony of Zimri's existence, she might just dare to challenge her own poverty and powerlessness --- with devastating consequences.

For all the thrills of teenage rebellion and flying cars, Orpheus and Zimri's tender romance still lies at the heart of Swain's dystopic thriller. As a matter of fact, the duo's defiance of Harold Chanson serves as a mere --- though thrilling --- backdrop for the couple's tender, more unexpected rebellion against their own biases and assumptions. Though the couple's glorious good looks no doubt speed things along, Swain grounds this love story in so much more than physical attraction. Zimri's always teetering on the verge of resignation; Orpheus assumes the best in a cutthroat world— sometimes with (near) fatal consequences. Alone, each protagonist would have remained more or less imprisoned in society's roles and expectations. Only together can Zimri and Orpheus combine their personal weaknesses into one kick-butt, oligarchy-busting duo.

Though this coming-of-age saga approaches perfection, it never quite gets there. Don’t get me wrong, Zimri and Orpheus each boast enough psychological richness to keep you engaged through a few rereadings, but blustery megalomaniac Harold Chanson has few redeeming virtues. As the novel's primary antagonist, Harold may have deserved a little more psychological development than he received. And the protagonists' mutual resignation in the novel's opening pages doesn't give readers a whole lot to root for. The ending bears a faint tinge of deus ex machina.

But don't let my (very few, very minor) complaints scare you away. As Orpheus Chanson so wisely observes, "beauty gets boring... [when] any imperfection has been routed out.” And H.A. Swain's dystopic romance is anything but boring.

Reviewed by Alison Stewart on August 16, 2017

by H. A. Swain