Welcome to another review as part of the Speculative Fiction Indie Novella Championship, or SFINCS, which I am judging as part of Team Jamreads alongside a cohort of other lovely judges. For my SFINCS reviews, I will be judging each book on the following five criteria: Characters, Setting, Plot, Writing, and Enjoyment with a bonus point for Cover Art and Formatting. This review contains my honest thoughts and does not represent the opinion or final rating of the team.
This review is for A Mirage in the Memory by Simon Tull and has been chosen by Team Jamreads as one of the team’s semi-finalists.
Dogged by a digital ghost and his own murky past, he must scour the city to kill the killer … or lose the woman he loves.
Earth, post-Apocalypse. Thibault Allard is determined to save his wife. After he escapes the addictive virtual reality that enslaved them both, he works as a bounty hunter for their unsavoury captor to gain inside access and search for his beloved. But when the morally flexible immortal is handed a ruthless ultimatum, he derails his plans in order to pursue the man who terminated his boss’s spouse.
Getting close to the dangerous cult leader responsible for the woman’s death, he scrambles to survive after he’s captured and imprisoned. And thrown into a pit for a gladiatorial battle against a blood-lusting monster, Thibault fears he’ll die before he can rescue the bride he left behind.
Can he double down on his duty without losing the rest of his soul?
A cyber-running adventure across post-apocalyptic and cyberpunk space, A Mirage in the Memory is a fascinating look into a dark new world as one man would do anything to find his missing wife, even if that means crossing legal and moral boundaries.
A Mirage in the Memory is the story of Thibault, a bounty hunter who straddles the real world and cyber world in order to carry out jobs for a mafia-styled boss. It’s not easy or glamorous work, but he’s willing to get his hands dirty for whatever odd jobs will get him closer to his missing wife. He’s a hardened man in a hardened world who is aware that he’s effectively the pawn of more powerful men. As such, he’s only willing to do the right thing and take on a mission to find a woman’s killer, not from the goodness of his heart, but for his own personal gain.
But as Thibault takes on this last dirty job, he meets an interesting range of side characters who help and hinder him to an extent. I’ll be honest and say I didn’t quite click with Thibault’s character; he’s quite a morally gray, tortured man, and to me, his mission to find his wife came across as a little cliched. The side characters really stood out to me though, especially Blink, an engineer with a collection of entertaining robots, and who’d also hardened her heart against this darker world. But unlike Thibault, she’s willing to take risks in order to do the right thing.
I did, however, love that Thibault has cybernetic arms, which do occasionally cause him trouble from time to time.
The setting for A Mirage in the Memory is certainly a unique one – a post apocalyptic world merged with a cyber one where people can connect and login, Matrix style. I was fascinated by this world and the language used to describe it, with the virtual world being known as the slip and the real one known as the bleed. This then leads to another interesting aspect of the world building – everyone appears to be vampires.
I say ‘appears’ because while it was hinted at in places, the world building was quite vague, maddeningly so. A Mirage in the Memory definitely takes ‘show, don’t tell’ seriously as it doesn’t explain much about the world, how it became the way it was, or what the vampire stuff is all about. I’d love to have more explanation for how it all connects because this TEASES ME and I am so utterly fascinated that I want to know more! The world sounds so cool, tell me about it, Mr Tull!
The plot, then, sees Thibault take on a job to find the killer of a mysterious cyber ghost who has become trapped in the machine. It turns out this lady is the bad boss’s dead wife, and tracking down and eliminating the killer could earn some points and a few clues toward his real mission – finding his own missing wife. As a bounty hunter, Thibault has a few tricks up his sleeves, as well as some useful contacts to help him get on his way. While that takes up half of the story, the other half is spent in an arena-like environment trying to beat another mafia-like boss to complete his quest. This half of the story was less interesting to me, I’ll admit, as the fighting felt drawn out and I’d like more of the wonderful world.
The story did reach a rather bleak conclusion, which was in fitting with the dystopian world Thibault finds himself in, but it also didn’t quite conclude either. For me, it doesn’t quite work as a standalone for that reason.
The writing of A Mirage in the Memory is where this book really shone. The writing simply oozed with style and atmosphere that drew me in effortlessly. This is one of the best written books I’ve read in a long time, with literary lines that sparked across the page without crossing over into purple prose. Tull’s writing style really captured that cyberpunk feeling perfectly.
While I didn’t quite click with Thibault’s character or his particular story, I absolutely loved being immersed into A Mirage in the Memory and want to learn more of this world. This book is a prequel for the first book in The Slip Saga series, and I definitely want to be there to see the world that Tull has created and to lose myself in his prose once more.
Cover Art and Formatting
The cover is stunning with hints of the cyberpunk world as well as the vampiric one.