Book Review

Golden State by Ben H. Winters

golden state

I adored Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters, and my interest was immediately piqued by the concept of his latest novel, Golden State, which features a distinctly dystopian setting.

Welcome to Golden State, where the worst crime you can commit is to lie.

Laz Ratesic is a veteran of the State’s special police. Those in power rely on Laz to discover the full and final truth.

But when a man falls from a roof in suspicious circumstances, it sets in motion a terrifying series of events which will shatter Laz’s world for ever.

Because when those in control of the truth decide to twist it, only those with the power to ask questions can fight back.

Golden State is set in a world where the biggest crime of all is to tell a lie.  Even the lies told with good intentions – the little white lies, and those told to protect others – are considered a criminal activity and carry harsh penalties.  It’s an unusual concept, but the reader gets a gentle introduction to this world through a small incident in the first chapter which sets up the novel brilliantly.  The world building in this novel is fantastic, and from that initial introduction, the reader is thrust headfirst into a world of constant surveillance, not just by the state, but by the people themselves.  All adults are required to record every detail of their day, and these records are eventually subsumed into the grand record.  By capturing the minutiae of everyday events, a store of information is gradually built up so that any event, no matter how big or small, can be corroborated should the need arise.  It’s very cleverly done, and, as with the best dystopian fiction, I read on feeling equally intrigued and horrified.

The main protagonist is Laszlo Ratesic.  Ratesic is a speculator – someone who can tell when someone is lying and, in the same way that the police would track down a criminal in our world, bring to justice those who cause discord by lying.  How he and his colleagues are able to do this isn’t explained – it seems to be an evolution of gut instinct – and while it might have been interesting to understand this ability in more detail, I don’t think it’s essential – it didn’t stop me enjoying the novel.  What is clear is that it’s more than intuition and not everyone is capable of it, and it takes a toll on the speculator when this ability is called into use.

Ratesic is a great character, and I loved that he’s not an obvious hero.  He’s gruff, imperfect, and while he sticks to his role with a dogged determination, he’s not the best at what he does.  Ratesic is very much a lone wolf, and he’s not happy about being assigned an apprentice at the beginning of the novel.  It’s fair to say that he’s an absolute jerk to Aysa Paige in the beginning, particularly when it becomes clear that she is better at the job than he is, although she proves to be more than a match for him and his bad attitude.  I enjoyed seeing their working relationship gradually develop into mutual respect, as her impatience is tempered by his more thorough and gradual approach, the two balancing each other out.

Ratesic and Paige are assigned to the case of a roofer who appears to have fallen from the roof of the property he was working on.  While it seems an unfortunate but easily explained accident, speculators are often called to such events in order to ensure that everything is at is seems.  As they begin to investigate, it quickly becomes clear that there are anomalies in this situation, and as they begin to dig deeper, they find themselves caught up in something much bigger than they bargained for.  It’s a fascinating plot, and this was a novel that I devoured in record time – I was so caught up in the events and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.

Golden State is a fantastic story set in a uniquely dystopian world.  It’s a novel that touches upon the state of the world today, tackling the way in which the general public is expected to believe the statements relayed down from those in power, and often spun by the media.  Brilliant and timely, this is a novel that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.

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