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While We Run by Karen Healey


It’s 2127, and the future is at stake . . .

Abdi Taalib thought he was moving to Australia for a music scholarship. But after meeting the beautiful and brazen Tegan Oglietti, his world was turned upside down. Tegan’s no ordinary girl – she died in 2027, only to be frozen and brought back to life in Abdi’s time, 100 years later.

Now, all they want is for things to return to normal (or as normal as they can be), but the government has other ideas. Especially since the two just spilled the secrets behind Australia’s cryonics project to the world. On the run, Abdi and Tegan have no idea who they can trust – and, when they uncover startling new details about the program, they realize that thousands of lives may be in their hands.
I reviewed When We Wake two weeks ago today, and said in that review that I was eagerly anticipating the sequel. That anticipation paid off in a big way, as While We Run proves a novel equal to its forerunner; however, it’s absolutely impossible to review this book without spoiling the first, so for the spoiler-wary, I simply say, go and read Healey’s work. Go now.

For those of you who are still here, as you may have guessed from the cover, this sequel is told from Abdi’s point of view. The switch in PoV character is handled absolutely excellently, as we see the same device – the narrator actively addressing the audience – applied to a very different person. While We Run is a much darker novel, opening with the way the Australian government (who make impressively good, corrupt, brutal villains…) is using Abdi and Tegan, and the methods it is employing to keep them in line. The tortures are represented graphically and in excruciating detail, and it is to Healey’s credit that it induces cringing and horror in her readers as they see some of what the pair are subjected to. While We Run also fleshes out Abdi’s character; we learn so much more about his inner self as he gives away the extent to which he is a calculating, manipulative force rather than the impulsive action-women Tegan.

That brings us neatly onto the characters, and most of those are familiar from When We Wake. That’s not to say they’re the same; inevitably, everyone has been changed by both the events of and the events following that book, and it’s a harder, harsher set of characters we run into here. Joph and Bethari are of course present, and the way the four characters relate to each other now, after such different experiences, is fascinating, as is the way we see them grow and change in their attitudes toward each other across the course of the book. Healey controls all her characters so well that some surprising twists, in hindsight, are simply obvious; and some of the interaction between characters is so true that it is heartwrenching.

It’s hard to talk about the plot of While We Run, because it’s a bit more episodic than When We Wake, feeling more like a series of events; they’re well integrated and sequenced, but it does make avoiding a bullet-point summary difficult, so we’ll brush over that and move to assessing it. As a novel about consequences and decisions, the plot beautifully emphasises those themes both overtly and covertly time and again, as the actions of the characters come back to haunt them; and the plot itself is so well put together, and so well thought through, that it drags you along, turning pages to see the ramifications of everything. The writing style helps with that; Abdi’s voice is considered but not detached, and at times it is indeed incredibly heated. It draws us along, a confessional, friendly style that speeds and slows to keep pace with the action excellently, making the world outside the book vanish; I read While We Run in a single sitting of a few hours, and could devour it again it was such a pleasure.

When We Wake and While We Run form a stunning, powerful, controlled and beautiful duology. I hope we see a third novel from trans* lesbian Joph, but even if not, Healey has provided one of the best, most powerful science fiction series in a long time, and in only two books. Take note, and read.

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