Pros: Lovely story and characters
Cons: A few details
Rating: 4 out of 5
Leigh Saunders’s Memoirs of a Synth: Gold Record introduces us to Brianna Rei. She’s a Synth, designed and engineered to be the “perfect specimen” of humanity. The Synths were created to act as emissaries and diplomats in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. But when they returned home to Earth, humans were afraid of what they had created. They vilified them, accused them of atrocities, and tried to exterminate them. Some of the aliens the Synths met helped them to escape, and now they slip from identity to identity, finding ways to make use of their long lives, wealth of knowledge, and total recall. Bri manages, on a lark, to fall in with smuggler and thief Jerrold. An attraction sparks right away, but what really causes Bri to stick around is the fact that Jerrold’s been hired to steal an object connected to her origins. When the planning stages of their heist cause Jerrold to find out what Bri really is, events take a left turn.
This is a low-key heist story, in that we end up seeing a handful of cascading heists go forward. Steal one thing, betray one person to another, steal another item to trade for someone, rescue a person, go off to steal another item… it’s great, and each situation is new and interesting. However, this is more of a character story than a heist story. So the focus isn’t on incredibly complicated heists, but rather on all of the various character interactions involved. There are stints of survival story, hints of maybe-romance and sexual attraction, running around all secret-spy identity-switching craziness, appearance-altering, jail-breaks, and more. (Content warning for sexual assault.)
I love most of the characters in here, but oddly I felt Jerrod could have used a little more depth. We get to fully explore Bri’s uncertain feelings for him, but there are periods of time where he has to come to his own revelations and we don’t see him during most of those times, leaving his side of things a little bereft. Many of Bri’s allies, temporary or permanent, though, are fascinating to meet. In particular I like the lizard-aliens she hooks up with. I also like the fact that she establishes interesting relationships with alien races–that is, after all, supposed to be what the Synths are good at doing. Don’t worry though–humans get plenty of interesting personality, too!
There was one dropped plot thread. One side character leaves a message for Bri. Bri sets it aside to find a way to read it later, and… I don’t recall her ever getting back to it.
The details of the various alien worlds are great. This isn’t a book that’s focused on worldbuilding first and foremost, but the results infuse the pages. Some of it is serious, some quirky, and all of it suits the story.
I really enjoyed this book, and I’m glad I picked it up.