In the twenty-third century, humanity isn’t limited to just Homo sapiens. A deadly pandemic and the famine that followed led to humans experimenting with their genome in an attempt to makes themselves more resilient. Now there are two newer, better human species, and Homo sapiens has been pushed to the bottom of the pecking order and held responsible for the state in which it has left the planet.
Elise is a Sapiens, bound for a lifetime of low-skilled and tedious employment. She dreams of working among the at the Museum of Evolution, where previously extinct species have been brought back to being by the Medius and Potior species. One of the latest returned species is Homo neanderthalensis, but they have not responded well to captivity, and require almost constant companionship to stop them hurting themselves, or worse.
When Elise is accepted as the latest Companion to subject Twenty One she’s not sure what to expect. She’s been warned not to trust her colleagues as she has secrets that must be kept, but for Kit’s (Twenty One) sake she needs information and supplies. Her fellow Companion and her Medius supervisor might help, but dare she confide in them?
As post-apocalyptic stories go, Subject Twenty One is relatively benign. It has a solid premise, and, with the exception of the pantomime villain Potiors, the characters are mostly believable. Warren has obviously spent a lot of time on developing her fictional world but relays the information clumsily, inserting it in unwieldy clumps rather than flowing naturally. It still does the job but might find yourself a bit confused at a later point if you weren’t paying full attention at the right time.
In the Author’s Note, Warren mentions her research into palaeoanthropology and Homo neanderthalensis, which makes it all that much more of a clanger when she claims that humans evolved from chimpanzees. There are a number of other mistakes and continuity errors, including Kit knowing things he would have no way of knowing, and the inclusion of an animal identified as a sabre-tooth tiger, a defunct catch-all term based on species misattribution; the nearest is taken to be the Smilodon genus of sabre-toothed ‘cats’.
I wouldn’t say that Subject Twenty One is the best novel I’ve read in this genre, but it’s certainly not the worst. I became invested enough in Elise, Kit and Samuel to want to know what happens next, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next book in this series, The Hidden Base.
I received an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Publication date: Originally published as Museum of Second Chances in 2018