Title: Parasite (Parasitology #1)
Author: Mira Grant
Star Rating: * * * *
Genre: Sci-Fi/Medical Thriller/Horror
WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD!
Sally Mitchell was seconds away from being taken off life support when she miraculously woke up. The only explanation that the doctors could suggest was that her tape worm implant managed to save her from the effects of her terrible car crash. After all, in 2027, who doesn’t have one of these helpful creatures in their guts to help control their health?
Six years after her accident, Sal remembers nothing of her previous life and just wants to move on. However, her family still wants their “old” daughter back, and Symbogen, the corporation behind the intestinal implants, is still very interested in her as a test subject. When people start falling ill to a mysterious “sleeping sickness” that seems to turn people into mindless, violent automatons, Sal’s life becomes even more of a mess. Wanting answers, she reaches out to an anonymous source who speaks to her in code, but the truth leaves her with difficult choices about who she needs to be loyal to and who she really is.
I am an unabashed fan girl of Mira Grant, and it’s difficult for me not to start rambling about all of the things that I adore about how she writes. After all, she’s the author of hard sci-fi novels with female characters, and she writes both of these things really well. How could she not make my favourite authors list?
In regards to concrete examples of good things from Parasite, I’ll start with how I really appreciate Grant’s ability to write nuanced female characters. In a literary world stuffed full of “kick-ass” female protagonists who follow a very specific set of tropes, Grant creates female characters who are strong and interesting in their own unique ways. In this book, Sal is a very different type of protagonist. She’s an adult, but her entire life was wiped out during an accident, so in some ways she’s only six years old. She’s headstrong, but she also values making the people around her happy, so she compromises and listens to others. She’s a bright and interesting person with a lot of knowledge about the things that mean something to her, but readers can easily see how her gaps in knowledge and life experience allow her to be used and manipulated. She is neither helpless nor entirely in control of her own life, and she is constantly negotiating for a good balance between independence and support.
Additionally, Sal has a very strong voice. One complaint I’ve had about a lot of the female characters that are being churned out lately is that many of them are not fleshed out enough for me to really know who they are as people. For example, if I were to write my own story with some of these characters, I don’t think they have enough of a distinctive voice for me to be able to copy it and be sure that I wasn’t just writing an entirely new character. Sal, on the other hand, is a fully actualised person rather than a blank slate, and she’s quirky and a bit strange to boot!
Another aspect of Parasite that I really enjoyed was the fact that I never got bored while reading. I will fully admit that my attention span isn’t all that great, so even in books that I really like an interruption in the flow will probably cause me to wander off to do the dishes or bug the cat for a while. Aside from having to go to bed, I didn’t put Parasite down. It moved fast enough and with a balanced pace that I never felt distracted, and this is a high compliment coming from a high strung reader such as myself.
Finally, Grant has managed to give us a fun and exciting medical, sci-fi thriller that isn’t filled with black and white messages. The basis of the plot is that Symbogen has created a genetically modified tape worm that can live safely in human bodies and help regulate health. However, desire for fame and fortune led the team who was creating this medical tool to cut corners in the research process, endangering human lives. As the faults of the tape worm slowly become known, Symbogen tries as hard as possible to cover-up their involvement while the government is ready to do almost anything to find out what Symbogen is hiding. At the same time, one of the researchers behind the creation of the tape worms knows about the emerging sentience of the parasites, and is trying to find a compromise between humans and worms. But some of the sentient tape worms have escaped and just want freedom from slavery for their kind. Aside from Sal, Parasite has our different groups with very different goals, and it is impossible to say that any of them are fully correct.
There is one part of Parasite that I suspect some readers may not enjoy, and that is the final twist in the story. SPOILER WARNING! In the last chapter of the book, it is revealed that Sal’s tape worm has migrated up to her brain and taken over. I would not be surprised if readers are frustrated by the fact that this was an easy twist to foresee; however, I don’t think that it was a plot point that was supposed to be difficult for readers to figure out. Instead, it was Sal who was blind to this possibility. All throughout the novel, hints were given that were quite obvious to the reader, but not to poor, naïve and frightened Sal. Grant likes to drop many bombshells in her books that you don’t see coming, so readers are probably in for some interesting revelations in later novels (who wants to bet that Nathan isn’t as nice as he seems?). The tape worm reveal was a way of showing more of Sal’s character rather than providing a shocking surprise to end the book.
If you are looking for a well-constructed sci-fi/medical thriller, then Parasite is for you. It’s exciting, thought-provoking, and fun. Like her Newsflesh trilogy, Grant’s new characters are nuanced and often quite funny! I am looking forward to getting to know them over the course of the next couple books as the plot inevitably gets complicated and the shocking reveals roll in. Now to commence the long wait for November 2014 for the second installment!