For those who enjoyed Phoebe Wray’s debut sci-fi novel, Jemma 7729, as much as I did, the projected sequel J2 was eagerly anticipated. And for this reader at least, J2 does not disappoint.
This book J2 is named after its protagonist, the clone of Jemma, who is present at Jemma’s show trial and escapes after a riot breaks out in the court room. The novel, like its predecessor, is set in North America 200 years from now, when the population lives in domed cities, each surrounded by a torus of farmland and connected with the others by high speed rail. Much of the countryside has been officially abandoned. Supposedly it’s been rendered uninhabitable by toxic and radioactive waste, the refuse of a destructive civil war, but that’s just another government lie.
The Constitution had been scrapped. Each dome is governed by a regional director appointed by and responsible to the dictatorial president, who is based in Los Angeles. The all powerful Fed Guards have replaced the police and function as army and Gestapo as well.
The underlying principal of the regime is a strict patriarchy. The whole system is directed at keeping the inferior females in their place. But why? There was a civil war in which women played an important part, but lost. The entire female gender was blamed for it, and the result is AGNA (the Administrative Government of North America). It also includes Canada and Mexico, but only the resistence movement recognizes the right of those two former countries to regain their independence.
J2 is the only name Jemma’s clone she has, though some call her Jay for short. She escapes from the Chicago dome makes her way into the forbidden interior. There she links up with the leaders of the resistance known as the Movers, introduced in the first book. They had admitted Jemma into their ranks and they do the same with J2. It takes a few chapters for them to learn to trust her, however, and in those chapters not much “action” happens, not in the conventional sense. Instead, the action of this part of the novel is J2’s campaign to build trust with the activists who had worked with Jemma. Wray makes this work without becoming tiresome or sentimental. It’s an effective piece of writing.
After that, the focus shifts to the Chicago dome, which has been leaking of late, due to the skewed priorities of the local administrator. Known as Marlin9901, he prefers to allocate funding and personnel to tasks more important to him, such as tracking down dissenters and creating distracting propaganda such as a “winter festival.”
The novel culminates in a massive breakdown of the authoritarian system of AGNA, but only in the Foundry Region around Chicago. Elsewhere the AGNA dictatorship still stands, setting up the possibility of a trilogy.
I’d gladly read the last book of such a trilogy if Phoebe Wray should choose to write it. As for J2 itself, I give it five stars out of five, even better than its predecessor.