Mantchev is one of the several authors who I look out for on a regular basis in the hopes I’ll come across a new book or series by her that’s forthcoming. When I saw “Ticker” on NetGalley I knew I just have to read it to satisfy my curiosity.
Unlike the Theatre Illuminata series before, “Ticker” left me with a very mixed feeling upon finishing with what I must say ended up as a few pros being outweighed by a handful of cons. Despite this I enjoyed the book, yet must say it’s definitely not as strong as Mantchev’s previous work and somewhat disappointing, as a result.
The problems can easily be divided into two categories: world building and characters, your two very standard categories that will make or break any good story.
Let’s start with the world building. It would be a lie to say that it didn’t exist, but what world building there was felt very vague. There are terms for various apparatus, country names, even capitalized worlds like Butterflies appearing during the story yet the explanation for the existence of said terms is very minimal, in some cases nonexistent. It led to a sense that the reader should just go along with it and I wish that wasn’t the case because some of the details were quite wonderful, like the Sweet Works factory in which Violet worked, or the extravagant red dress and hat that Penny wore towards the end of the book. I think then that this book would’ve been better suited as a short story rather than as a book, because at least in a short story you can forgive the lack of information more easily whereas in a book the world building sets the tone of the entire thing. What it ended up being was a bunch of individual, beautiful images that were difficult to string together into a bigger picture, whether it was in imagining the geography of the world or understanding their history to just plain being able to follow along with the story. A lot of the events were another example of abrupt plot turns that pulled the attention away from the previous event and shoved the reader into the next. World building and some more transitioning would’ve smoothed out this.
But you can’t have only pretty details without a cast of characters that make or break the story. Honestly I’m surprised that all of Penny’s friends didn’t end up turning on her. On one hand she did have that backbone, danger- and death-defying edge to her, but on the other hand she became rather difficult to follow as the story progressed. In fact I ended up agreeing with one of Nic’s statements later on when he called her selfish and self-centered and blamed her entire predicament on her alone. With a character that rushes into danger all the time so thoughtlessly it became actually easy to blame her for her own misfortunes, really, and in this kind of story that’s not a good thing considering that it touches upon a theme that can be viewed allegorically on several levels. Her relationship with Marcus was predictable but ended up being forced, and reminded me of how people complain about other couples that seem to not stand each other for the longest time ever only to end up together at the very end of the book, almost as if they realize that the book is ending and they must stick to the script of a planned romance. Violet and Penny had a friendship that was also difficult to swallow, especially when Violet was introduced in such a way as a naggy, rather forceful kind of friend that accuses with the purpose of accusing rather than as having Penny’s best intentions in mind. Nic was the one character I did understand and like (plus his full name is Copernicus, and anyone with that name is right away somewhat awesome). Sebastian’s character I never fully understood, and Penny’s parents are left feeling rather undeveloped (which isn’t surprising in the end, considering they were gone for 95% of the book and only appear in flashbacks). And as for Warwick I never could figure out whether he was good or bad by the end, or at least what Mantchev’s view on it was and what kind of reaction towards him she wanted to elicit from her readers.
The verdict, then, is that this would’ve made a much better short story, or even a shorter novella, rather a book. It was too choppy and left me wanting more. Even the Acknowledgement at the end of the page, which described how the idea for the idea came about, seemed to scream that this should’ve been a short story. It’s such a shame, too. The idea of Augmentation and the debate of natural vs man-made and the whole concept of tricking death is very applicable in our modern society and the steampunk futuristic world would’ve been a wonderful setting for it, but it just didn’t work as well as I hoped. The characters weren’t as strong and there was too much abruptness and too many blanks to be able to process the story in an adequate way, the way it deserved to be viewed.