Billy Jakobek has always been different. Born with strange and powerful psychic abilities, he has grown up in the laboratories of Thorne Century, a ruthless megacorporation that economically, socially, and politically dominates American society. Every day, Billy absorbs the emotional energies, dreams, and traumas of everyone he meets—from his grandmother’s memories of the Holocaust, to the terror his sheer existence inflicts upon his captors—and he yearns to break free, so he can use his powers to help others.
Natalia Gonzalez, a rebellious artist and daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, lives in Heaven’s Hole, an industrial town built inside a meteor crater, where the poverty-stricken population struggles to survive the nightmarish working conditions of the local Thorne Century factory. Natalia takes care of her ailing mother, her grandmother, and her two younger brothers, and while she dreams of escape, she knows she cannot leave her family behind.
When Billy is transferred to Heaven’s Hole, his chance encounter with Natalia sends shockwaves rippling across the blighted landscape. The two outsiders are pitted against the all-powerful monopoly, while Billy experiences visions of an otherworldly figure known as the Shape, which prophesizes an apocalyptic future that could decimate the world they know.
I have to say, the setting for Knight in Paper Armor was very disturbing (near-future, urban dystopia), not just because of how it was, but because it seems so easily possible from where we are now. One company dominating and oppressing the world—yep, I could see that—poverty, loss of rights and freedoms, the use of violence and murder to control people and keep them below the poverty level…Sad and depressing, but believable.
Billy was such a sympathetic character: branded as different and raised by a greedy corporation in a lab, his family murdered in front of him, the victim of experiments and used for a weapon. All Billy wants is to have a “normal” life and help people. All Natalia wants is to help her family and to right the wrongs she sees around her every single day. Both these characters are strong and vividly drawn but have their flaws as well.
The author does an excellent job painting an admittedly dark picture, but he also showcases the glimmers of light and hope that can be found even in the dark of times.
Nicholas Conley lives in New Hampshire. Knight in Paper Armor is his newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of the author in exchange for an honest review.)