84K by Claire North
480 pages. Hardcover.
84K is a book that I'd been anticipating for quite a while. The premise of being able to just pay for any crimes you commit, no matter how big or small, is fascinating. How would society evolve? What would morals be like? How would prices for crimes like murder or rape even be calculated? Why did this happen in the first place? I had so many questions. And, unfortunately, I still have some of those questions.
I am incredible conflicted on how I feel about this book. On the one hand, it's a beautiful work of literature that features a poetic structure which leaves a strong impact on the reader. On the other hand, this literary style sort of distracted from the topic at hand and left me feeling as if the ideas I wanted to explore were hard to figure out. 84K definitely delves into some dark areas and does cover a variety of themes related to morals and similar ideas, but it just wasn't as engaging and discernible as it could have been, and I didn't find myself enjoying or becoming engaged in this book nearly as much as I expected. This issue, I eventually realized, reminded me of Red Clocks by Leni Zumas, where there was a fascinating idea (a futuristic America in which abortion is outlawed, IVF is outlawed, etc.), but it just wasn't explored enough because the high literary style overtook the plot, which is what feels like happened with 84K as well. It's a wonderfully written book, but it seems to miss some of what I was most looking for.
As mentioned, this book uses an extremely poetic style, and at times it both looked and felt as if I was reading a book of verse. There is, of course, more prose than verse itself, but it still had such a beautiful flow to it that made it easy to just sit down and read through. The story is told from the perspective of Theo Miller and with no warning often jumps around among different timelines in his life. Many of these jumps occur with new chapters or page breaks, but there are also many parts where each line often tells from a different timeline or a different character. It sounds confusing, and I'll admit that it was at moments, but overall it worked really well and added a certain amount of gravity and parallel to the storylines that added an extra layer of intrigue.
Theo was a character that I haven't quite been able to decide whether I liked or disliked. His situation in life is horribly dreary, and he seems to live in a very robotic state, doing the same deplorable work everyday as a Criminal Audit Officer, calculating the worth of people's crimes, lives, and futures. I think North did a great job of creating a relatable character that reacts in very interesting ways to unexpected news he receives. His eventual determination is admirable and is what helped to make this book so engaging.
84K is also a very dark book. There is a minute amount of hope found within these pages, and instead we are left wandering through a grim, exceedingly bleak backdrop. This became a situation where as much as I wanted to pick up the book to see what would happen next, I also sometimes didn't want to because of how harsh this book was--which is also a sign of great writing and worldbuilding. It's also interesting because when I think back on this book, I can't remember too many specific events or actions that took place in the first seventy-five percent of the book. There is a lot of background given, as well as snippets of other random aspects of this world. This isn't particular an action-heavy book, but it certainly has enough intrigue to keep one guessing, and the ending really picks up as well.
This is really a horrific future to behold, and the worldbuilding that is developed is incredible. I could feel the despair, the boredom,and the bleakness that the characters felt seeping into my own experience, and for that I think North is a wonderful writer.
Overall, I've decided to give this book 3.75 stars out of five. I am still incredibly conflicted about this and my rating may or may not change one day, but today this is where I'm at. I was fascinated by the storyline, impressed by North's writing and worldbuilding, but also very disappointed at how the style seemed to overtake the plot in many points. I would recommend this one to someone who is either into dystopian world ideas, enjoys literary fiction that tackles grim topics, or anyone who is simply interested in the premise. I will, however, be sure to pick up more from Claire North in the future because I find her writing incredibly intriguing!