Review: Company Town by Madeline AshbyCompany Town by Madeline Ashby
Published by Tor Books on May 17th, 2016
Genres: Science-Fiction
Format: Hardcover
Source: Ottawa Library

Meet Hwa. One of the few in her community to forego bio-engineered enhancements, she’s the last truly organic person left on the rig. But she’s an expert in the arts of self-defence, and she’s been charged with training the Family’s youngest, who has been receiving death threats – seemingly from another timeline.

Meanwhile, a series of interconnected murders threatens the city’s stability – serial killer? Or something much, much worse...?

Company Town‘s gorgeous cover caught my attention two years before the book was even released (says GoodReads). It beautifully represents the book, which takes place in a near-future town-size oil rig off the shores of Newfoundland. After a fire which burnt down and sunk the core of the rig, a private company unexpectedly bought the city and renovated it. Now, New Arcadia is composed of five towers of increasing level of technology. Each building houses a different class of citizens around the immersed wreck of the old rig.

Hwa was born in the poorest community. She was born with a condition called Sturge-Weber Syndrome, which manifested itself as a large red mark on her face and body, and a tendency toward seizures. Since her mother couldn’t ever stand the sight of her, Hwa developed a low self-esteem and a deep, universal mistrust toward people. She learnt to fight for a living and ended up a bodyguard for the sex workers of New Arcadia. Also, her health-condition and financial dire prevented her to afford the wonders of bioengineering, which singles her out in a community where almost everyone lives with an augmented body.

Finally, a job offer from the Lynch family—the new investor in New Arcadia—comes as a one-of-a-kind
opportunity. But just as Hwa ponders the pro and cons of her new job, a close friend dies in a brutal manner. And another one. And another one.
Some kind of modern Jack the Ripper is on the loose.

First and foremost, Company Town is an intriguing and immersive world: the idea of a far-sea corporate-owned city is original, and the rig-city concept is an interesting extrapolation over the current oil rush. I enjoyed reading about the different “social layers” of New Arcadia, from hidden impoverished communities to wealthy high-tech condos. I liked visualizing the different towers peaking out of the sea, their mismatching design, the drown ruins of the old rig, as well as the people of New Arcadia, such as the underground communities or the sex workers whom Hwa protects. I would have actually enjoyed even more details of the city and its people!

I found Company Town an easy and entertaining read as it’s packed with action like a Hollywood movie. You don’t have an occasion to be bored. The premise of the book—a crime story in a science-fiction setting—is really exciting and up to a certain point, the story delivers well.
However, the plot was very confusing at times. At the end of several chapters, Hwa behaves as if she suddenly understood something crucial… and I was totally baffled. Even after re-reading the whole part carefully, including the beginning of the following chapter, I was confused. It leaves me wondering if the story has been over-edited? Maybe some important information were removed from the narrative?
Nonetheless, such an excuse can’t be used for the plot conclusion, which was a letdown. It was abrupt and didn’t really fit well with the rest of the book.

Finally, I had some grievances about Hwa herself. I enjoy strong female characters, but not necessarily the ones that follow the “badass” example that strong male characters have set (as a cliché). I don’t enjoy excessive blood and broken bones, gratuitous violence, and colourful but hollow dialogues. I guess, in some way, I usually enjoy strong female characters because they show a way to be a hero that doesn’t involve a nuke-them-all approach.

So, what to make of Company Town? It is a gripping plot in a very imaginative setting… with a main character you may or may not like and a few confusing plot twists. The world is definitely worth the read (I actually would love to see a movie adaptation of Company Town) but the narrative is confusing at times and the ending was a letdown. However, if you want to discover an original sci-fi setting (within Canada!), do not miss it!