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  • Mandy McHugh

The Preserve, Ariel S Winter: A Review

4.5 stars

As soon as I saw this cover, I clicked on the title, and the blurb reeled me in. AI (r)evolution is a terrifying concept to me; and while I don't consider myself a die-hard fan of techno-horror novels, some of my favorite movie/tv shows and books have been centered on this very premise over the last few years. In a future when robots roam the land, humans are the minority and have been relocated to the Preserve, Chief of Police Jesse is trying to solve the Preserve's first homicide. At the same time, a string of seemingly unrelated robot killings require him to team up with his old Baltimore robot partner, Kir. Together, they must solve both cases before the delicate balance between human and robot is thrown into upheaval. Let me start by saying, this book is an interesting, terrifyingly-realistic read. Apparently being in the middle of an actual pandemic isn't keeping me from post-apocalyptic narratives, because this book touches on several of-the-moment trends that are disturbing and give an extra layer of significance to the read. Humans live on the Preserve in order to rebuild some of what they lost, repopulate (maybe) and give their kids the ability to socialize with other kids. This struck me right in the heart, as my daughter is finishing up a kindergarten year that has been far from what we envisioned and misses her friends desperately. I could completely relate to why the humans chose to try for regularity on the Preserve, in spite of the very real fear that being in one huge group would make it easy for the robots to wipe them out entirely. As an MC, Jesse is both interesting and exhausting. His health problems stressed me out, I was tired for him half the time, and I rooted hard for his success. His relationship with Kir was my favorite part of the book. Between their friendly banter, astute observations about their biological/cognitive differences, and the give-and-take of their interview and investigative styles, this was a winning pair in my book, a solid base to launch an addictive techno-procedural crime series. On top of this, I'd love to say this a book to get lost in, but there were too many parallels between the current state of affairs and this futuristic post-plague world. The power and prevalence of technology is a concern, but so is social injustice, political imbalance, and a system that is fundamentally broken. Yes, on the surface, you could read this without thinking too much into the characters and enjoy the thrill of the chase as Jesse and Kir hunt the bad guys. But dig a little deeper, and you'll find some pretty hard-hitting commentary that is shockingly accurate for 2020. Overall, The Preserve is a fast-paced, terrifying ride into the future. I'd recommend to anyone looking for a read in the vein of Almost Human, I, Robot, or Ex Machina--or anyone looking for a techno-take on crime series. Thank you to Atria/Emily Bestler Books and NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for honest review consideration.

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