After ten years of fighting a brutal regime, rebel Henraek finds himself labeled a traitor while working for the enemy as a memory thief. In Nik Korpon’s The Rebellion’s Last Traitor, we enter a future world where memories are sold as drugs, rebels join the enemy, and the people you grew up with aren’t who you think they are.
The Rebellion’s Last Traitor feels like a grittier, more grounded in reality Blade Runner. They are both set in a future world with holograms and some robots. There is a central mystery and a man willing to go at great lengths to solve it. But, the similarities end there (though there is a name that is in direct homage to the sci-fi classic). Korpon’s novel is less focused on the future world, there isn’t much neon, and more focused on the aftermath of a rebellion that lost.
Set sometime in the future, in a world very similar to Earth, the Resources Wars devastated the land. The Tathadann Party swoops in to help Eitan City only to become a tyrannical group that terrorizes the citizens. They began to steal memories in the hope that people will forget what it was like before they arrived. A group of rebels lead by Henraek and his lifelong friend Walleus fight against the party for ten years. During this time many of the rebels lose people who are close to them, Walleus loses his wife, Henraek loses his wife and son. When it looks like the Tathadann’s are going to crush the rebellion, Walleus jumps ship, betraying Henraek. However, he has heart enough to save Henraek and bring him in as a memory thief.
This backdrop creates a tense and unique relationship between the friends. The book switches perspectives between the two characters, giving us a peek into their minds as they navigate working for the enemy as well as trying to not get killed by rebels that label them as traitors. Korpon uses this structure to great effect, ending chapters at huge cliffhanger moments to leave you burning through pages to find out what happened to Henraek or Walleus.
The central mystery is revealed early on in the story while Henraek is stealing a memory. Memories are stolen and sold as drugs to the citizens of Eitan City. They can be viewed in hologram viewers like videos or even vaporised to be inhaled. After Henraek recognises one of his targets, he views the memory to discover that his wife wasn’t killed during a riot, but shot. Which leads him to believe his child could still be alive and somewhere in the city. Of course, Walleus knows the truth and doesn’t want Henraek to know. This leads Henraek down a rabbit hole of self-discovery and lots of violence.
Korpon does an amazing job of pacing the mystery at a fabulous speed. He reveals just enough to keep us guessing as well as moving the story along. I never found myself being slogged down by too many details that lead nowhere or figuring out the mystery too early. He peppers in bouts of awesome action set pieces between the backstabbing and retrospective moments, letting you catch your breath and appreciate the world you are in. All of this allows the mystery to pull you along and have you wondering if you can really trust memories.
Each character shines and stands out in someway. The minor characters aren’t just there for cannon fodder or to serve the mystery, they have their own story arcs, some beautiful, some ugly, and some that will definitely come back in the sequel. For instance, Henraek’s girlfriend, Emeriann, is probably one of the strongest female sci-fi characters I’ve read in a long time. She supports Henraek while at the same time working on her own bit of rebellion. Whenever she was on the page she stole the scene. Korpon weaves all of these characters together to build a world that feels lived in, that has you believing they are breathing and moving about while you are focused on someone else.
I think the only thing that I found to be a drawback was the feeling that Korpon leaned a little too far away from the sci-fi/futuristic world of the story. It was easy to forget that you were in the future. There was the memory thief bit and the holograms, but that could have just as easily been in an alternate history story. It almost feels like he was trying to avoid it as much as possible. And I’m not saying he needed laser guns or aliens, but could have added just a couple of more elements to cement the story in the future.
Despite that small hangup, I still thoroughly enjoyed this story. It read fast, but that could just have been because I wanted to see what happened next. The mystery is what is going to draw you in, but you’ll love this novel because of the characters. I was sad to finish the book because that meant leaving the characters behind, which I think is a sign of a great book. However, there is a sequel coming out in March of 2018 which I will also be reviewing for STORGY Magazine, so I know I won’t be missing my friends for too long.
Definitely pick this book up before it becomes a Netflix show or blockbuster movie.
‘The Rebellion’s Last Traitor’ was published by Angry Robot Books and is available here.
Nik Korpon is the author of several books, including The Soul Standard and Stay God, Sweet Angel. He lives in Baltimore with his wife and two children.
Reviewed by Matthew Brandenburg
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