Phantom by Leo Hunt

The Blurb On The Back:

Tech in her veins.

Anarchy in her blood.

Nova is an orphan, a thief, a no one …

Invisible to the City dwellers who live miles above the poisoned earth …

Invaluable to those who wish to destroy it. 

You can order PHANTOM by Leo Hunt from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s the far future.  Earth has been ravaged and poisoned by wars and pollution and generation after generation has built upwards until towers soar miles above the earth – the richest living closer to the top.  Almost everyone has implants in their body, enabling them to access the metanet, which governs every aspect of their life from finance to seeing adverts and where they can physically go to.

Nova doesn’t live in the upper echelons of society – not since a car crash killed her parents and left her an orphan.  She lives in the Gut, right in the lowest levels of the blighted city with Patches, an ex-soldier who offers shelter to homeless kids in return for their thieving for him by skimming credits from the implants of the citizens who live above them.  Nova’s one of the best at skimming thanks to her self-taught hacking skills but she dreams of being like the infamous hacker Moth who created the Phantom programme that lets people hide from the authorities.

And then one day Moth comes to Nova with a proposition: he wants her to interview for the position of personal assistant to Grale Inselberg, the CEO of Bliss Incorporated and find out about the top secret project she’s working on, known as Human Futures.  But not everything is as it seems and Nova must deal with betrayal while investigating Bliss Incorporated’s most secret project and uncover the secrets of a woman who will stop at nothing to protect them …

Leo Hunt’s YA SF thriller is an exciting, pacey affair that’s packed with interesting ideas about how far technology will literally take over our lives and how inequality could be compounded and embedded in society and although I found the antagonist to be a little two dimensional after the final twist, I would still definitely check out any sequel.

Nova is a really well drawn character with Hunt taking the common YA trope of being an orphan but using it to sketch how the society works (I found the idea of driverless cars being programmed to kill the person with least value in the event of a crash to be particularly chilling). Hunt also does a good job of making clear that Nova is smart but can be careless and trusting and Hunt fleshes out her pride in what she’s taught herself about hacking coupled with a fear that she isn’t good enough, which gives her initial encounter with Moth a realism and makes the reader believe in her motivation to help him.  Her relationship with Patches as a pseudo-father figure is well done and I enjoyed the edge to her friendship with Ade (the son of one of the Gut’s big gangsters) – in fact I would definitely want to see this developed further in any sequel.

Grale Inselberg is a kind of futuristic Steve Jobs with 100 times the ruthless dedication to her projects.  I found her coldness to be generally frightening but I did wish that some of her humanity (or at least a softer side) could have come through in the scenes with Ziran and although there is an explanation for this (which I won’t spoil) given Ziran’s affection for her, I just needed to see something that made her deserve that love – especially as her scenes with Campbell (her security/protection detail) are so perfunctory.

It’s difficult to discuss the plot of the book without going into spoilers but I think that Hunt keeps the twists coming without sacrificing pace or credibility and although he ties up a number of strands, there’s still potential there for a sequel, which I would definitely want to read.

PHANTOM was released in the United Kingdom on 9thAugust 2018.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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