Slow Start, Strong Finish - The Azazel Syndrome (by J. E. Kennedy)
Before we dive into the narrative itself, let’s take a moment to applaud the book cover. It’s been a few months since The Azazel Syndrome was added to my reading list, but its cover is most certainly what drew me in. It’s a gripping image of a terrifying, bleak world.
And that’s what The Azazel Syndrome is. It’s a story about a few characters trying to survive a depressing, horrible world. The United States has fallen; in its place is the Homeland. People stick themselves into digital gaming worlds through implants for days at a time. The weather is going crazy (never explicitly linked to climate change, that I can recall). Corporations run everything. Automated taxis fly through the streets, but you can take private taxis that will probably kill you as they navigate the automated roadways.
Throughout the book, Kennedy injects ridiculous, fun, creative, and downright terrifying future tech which is outlandish, prescient, realistic, and sad all bundled into one. It’s a monumental piece of future world building, comparative to older novels like Neuromancer or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.
And the writing is good, too. Though the prose itself sometimes suffered, Kennedy is a master at writing witty dialogue between the characters on the page. Back and forth, back and forth they go, using words as weapons as they combat and reflect and love.
I’m emphasizing all of these great parts of the book first, because I’m sure some of you are sensing the big BUT coming.
But . . . it took me a really, really long time to care about the characters in The Azazel Syndrome.
I can’t put my finger on it. There are quite a few point of view characters, and in a book of its length, The Azazel Syndrome doesn’t have a lot of room to spare, jumping inconsistently between POV characters as it does. Similarly, we’re thrust, right at the beginning, into Hatch’s mission to fetch a package for Ferret, but it takes a dreadfully long time for the story to move that particular plot forward. Instead, Kennedy takes readers on winding twists and turns through the world he’s created. I had a sense of awe at the terrifying pseudo-techno reality playing out on the page. But I also wanted the story to move.
Throughout the first part of the book (especially right at the beginning), we’re teased with this greater conflict occurring beyond the fight for survival playing out on the page. And when the revelations come, they come . . . in the form of monologue. Well, not all of them (don’t want to give spoilers), but I wish the crazy conspiracy truly pushing the plot forward had occurred through action, rather than through dialogue. And as I said before, I love Kennedy’s dialogue.
So it’s a great story. No doubt about it. But I felt like it also lacked power. Or at least, the power you might expect given the truth behind what every character is trying to find. It lacked the tension necessary to keep me truly wanting to push each page forward.
But that’s just me. I will say it’s intrigued me enough to consider the sequel when it releases. I don’t say that for every book I review.
On to the scores!
Writing: 9/10. Top notch dialogue. It’s wity, powerful, and made the story worth the read.
Characters: 6/10. The number of POVs in a book the length of The Azazel Syndrome didn’t allow me to attach to or care for any particular character. They’re good characters, but I lacked a sense of real understanding of their relationships or motivations.
Setting: 10/10. Not kidding. It’s a great world. Deserves this high of a score.
Plot: 7/10. Slow to start, but it’s a strong finish. Action-packed showdown that leaves you hanging for what comes next, for both the characters and the entire planet.
Overall: 8/10. Solid four star score. Great job J. E. Kennedy, and I hope everyone considers grabbing their own copy of The Azazel Syndrome!