Read No Evil, written by Steven W. White, follows High School teacher Jan Fitzgerald, age 25, who becomes convinced that a popular ebook is somehow changing and harming its readers. Students at her school are disappearing. Even worse, some are committing suicide or murder. When one of her teenage students, a goth-boy named Adrian, comes to her asking for help to find his missing sister, they join forces to try to find the person responsible.
This is a “soft” Sci-fi / Speculative Fiction story which relies on the possibilities of technology for plot but does not include any hard science beyond the 0s and 1s of computer language and speculation about future capabilities of computer intelligence. For the most part, it is grounded firmly in the modern day and the concepts will be readily accessible to anyone who has ever used an ebook reader.
Strengths of the book include a carefully planned plot with some nice twists and excellent writing. I found myself wanting to continue reading instead of putting the book down for other things.
The novel has plenty of action but it also builds tension through reflection. This is encapsulated nicely in my favorite lines from the book:
Because if she was right – if the ebook simply exploited the emotional power of the written word in a way never seen before – then whatever happened, however this calamity turned out…there was no way that the written word could survive.
(I don’t know about anybody else, but I am as horrified as Jan at that possibility.)
Over all, I enjoyed the book, but the way Jan was characterized annoyed me as the book progressed. At the beginning, I was really able to like her. She was a dedicated teacher who truly cared about her students and literature, and she won me over completely when she stepped between two of her male students to break up a fight. Although they were both big boys, she made them back down on the sheer force of her conviction. Jan definitely appeared to be my kind of heroine.
Sadly, later on in the book, she morphed into a standard issue YA heroine who falls in love after going on half a date with another teacher. I also found it difficult to believe that an intelligent person would take the risk she had in relationship to her sister’s health, but I cannot go farther into that plot element without getting into the realm of spoilers. While both of these story elements were there for a reason and were important to the outcome of the story, they felt like they had been dropped in for that purpose and were not as well developed as they should have been in an otherwise deftly crafted story. I found them irritating.
In terms of character development, Jan’s teenage student, Adrian, was more consistent and frequently more interesting. I realized I would often rather have heard the story from his perspective because I was having a hard time stomaching Jan and her insta-love.
The “meta” thing going on in the plot is pretty popular right now and I think teen and early 20’s readers would dig the book. You do not have to be a sci-fi fan to enjoy the story, but if you hate anything to do with sci-fi, you won’t enjoy this one. You also won’t want to read this one if you can’t cope with a little gore.
There were no significant spelling or grammar errors in this book, but it did not format properly on the Kindle Fire HD or on my Kindle PC app. The larger images in the book float down over some of the text, and the only way I was able to read the text underneath was to make the text size as large as possible to push the image out of the way and then make it smaller again after getting past the image. Obviously, this flaw didn’t keep me from continuing reading. It might keep you from reading, so please be aware of the problem if you decide to purchase it.
Do I recommend the book? If the formatting problems were not there, it would be an unqualified “yes!” at the retail price of $2.99, which is a bargain for an interesting and original tale. However, I can not give it a yes because the formatting problems really are problematic. If you do decide to give it a whirl, be ready for the formatting problems and don’t say I didn’t warn you.