Review: “Broken,” Susan Jane Bigelow

Pros: An amazing look at how time changes people; also a neat version of prescience
Cons: What was up with Janeane?
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

In Susan Jane Bigelow’s Broken (The Extrahuman Union) (Volume 1) Michael Forward has the ability to see the future when he looks into a person’s face. Unfortunately, the future is always changing based on our actions–and he only sees fragments and flashes. He could see dozens or even hundreds of possibilities for a given person, most of which are near-term matters. And sometimes the possibilities change radically when someone does something surprising that he didn’t foresee. A woman hands Michael a baby before killing herself, and Michael, despite the fact that he’s a young teenager, knows he has to do something about the boy. After all, the possibilities are split: if the folks in charge get their hands on Ian, he’ll become a bloody dictator. If the right people raise him in the right place, he’ll be a champion of peace, able to rally humans and some of the alien races. However, he knows that none of the good things will happen if he can’t find one person: an extrahuman woman who simply goes by the name of Broken. She can be harmed or even killed, but her body always heals again (excruciatingly–she feels every tiny bit of it). Without Broken’s help, he’ll never get Ian to a safe place–but she’d rather drink herself into oblivion.

Meanwhile, the ‘Black Bands’ are a militia controlled by the vicious Reform Party. Sky Ranger, one of the foremost extrahumans, is either playing along with them or fully supports them–either way, that’s a lot of power on their side. Mobs driven by the Black Bands start burning the homes of anyone suspected of being an extrahuman or of collaborating with the political party that’s on the outs. And Michael’s futures that he sees in the mirror all seem to end the same way: with him being killed by a thin man, regardless of whether things go well or poorly with baby Ian.

 

Michael is a wonderful character. His ability has forced him to grow up quickly. Much like Cassandra of legend, people rarely believe that he can see the future. It doesn’t help that any time he looks someone in the face he sees dozens of possibilities spiraling off of them, most of them fragmented and confusing. He does his best to pick the options that work out the best, but sometimes he just has to hold on and hope that something or someone will have an impact he didn’t foresee. Despite his youth he takes on this enormous responsibility. He has no idea how to care for a baby, and Broken would rather drown in alcohol than help. The characters in general in this book are quite good. The Black Bands come across as uniformly evil, but they aren’t the focus of the book. Broken has a lot of depth to her, and a fascinating backstory. Even Monica, who comes along with Michael and Broken when her house is torched by rioters, turns out to be more interesting than she seems at first.

The extrahuman abilities are fascinating, although we only see a sampling of them in this book. My favorite is prescience. It apparently comes in a near-term fine-grained variety that Michael has, as well as a broad, long-term version that takes the greater picture into effect. When these two types of future perception square off, the results are unexpected and intriguing. I particularly liked it when Michael’s visions would change on the fly as particularly dangerous moments arrived.

“The future has millions of possibilities, and I only see a fraction of them.”

I do want to know more about a mysterious character named Janeane who helped our characters in some mysterious ways. Since we know so little of her, some of her help came across as a small deus ex machina.

I loved this book, and shed a few tears over it. I would like to read more stories in this setting.

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