The Chosen Seed by Sarah Pinborough
The Chosen Seed by Sarah Pinborough (Ace, 2013) The Forgotten Gods: Book Three starts off with Cassius Jones still in hiding. He’s been framed for murder and, even in the best run countries, he would find it difficult to avoid conviction. That we find ourselves in a dystopian alternate history version of London compounds the problem. In this timeline, the corruption has been institutionalised and police in key positions tend to get the results they decide are necessary. Because Jones has become inconvenient in two different contexts. . . Well, when it comes to Mr Bright, the ostensible antagonist, the relationship with Jones is more equivocal. Indeed, it might be better to characterise the relationship as a form of gaming. Mr Bright, of course, has been playing a long time. He has the experience and the perspective. But Jones has proved to be a fast-learner. He’s also angry to find himself a victim of an organisation he does not understand. In the rational world, he cannot bring himself to define the relationship between Mr Bright and his family as Faustian. This was a form of breeding program. In return for unspecified rewards, two sons were born. Then the first-born son of the younger son was swapped on birth. This is the central mystery of the trilogy. What was the point of this program?
Jones is driven by the need to find his nephew Luke. It’s just grown more challenging now he’s on the run. Fortunately, some of the criminal bosses he’s dealt with in the past see a possible benefit in helping him now. As a wanted man, he starts as not quite a prisoner. Meanwhile, back in the police procedural part of the book, there are still those who believe Jones to be innocent. Their problem is the same as that experienced by Jones. The prevailing culture is hostile to those who do not toe the party line. If these “good” detectives and the expert profiler are seen to be challenging the orthodoxy of Jones’ guilt, they will be in serious trouble. In a way, they are also prisoners of circumstances. Yet, unless the official and unofficial parties can co-ordinate their activities, this is not going to turn out well.
The problem is compounded by the dissension in the ranks of the “organisation” and the network it supports. In the old days, the First had provided a coherent approach to running affairs on Earth. When Mr Bright became the leader, not everyone thought he was the right choice. Now the First has woken up again, the factionalism becomes more overt. Aggravating the situation, one more of the organisation’s membership is dying and decides to take a few locals with him. This gives the Government the task of dealing with what may turn into a major epidemic. People are dying already.
What makes this trilogy interesting is the deliberate overlaying of genre elements. In the first book, we begin with what seems exclusively a police procedural but it rapidly acquires what may be a supernatural overlay in the killing of various students. Some of the events may be considered by some to trespass into horror. Looking back, this is actually slightly more science fiction than fantasy with those who had involuntarily participated in a scientific experiment being terminated. Indeed, the way the ending shapes up is almost pure science fiction but embedded in a form of fantasy context. It’s a context that skates over various myths or reinterpretations of events fitting into an Abrahamic tradition. In the final pages, there’s a coherent explanation for all the events described in the three books which blends the supernatural and science fiction together. If you’ve reached this far, the author has won. It no longer matters whether the explanation resonates with you as an individual. You’ve invested in the life of Jones as he struggles to rescue his nephew, and then deal with the increasingly dangerous situation he discovers.
This book didn’t come up for review so I spent my own money to find out how the trilogy ended. That says a lot about the quality of the series. I wanted to see how the plot was resolved even though I strongly suspected it might be straying towards a less interesting plot resolution (by my standards). In fact, I was more or less right about what was happening and, because it’s cast as science fiction, thought it marginally less silly than I might otherwise have done. To get there, we have rather more character than plot development. Of course, a lot of “stuff” happens, but events give us a better opportunity to watch all interested parties respond and show more about themselves. This makes The Chosen Seed a pleasing read. There’s a lot of craft involved in building this particular scenario and then making it not wholly incredible in its own terms. In no small way, this is due to the fact Jones and those helping him must ultimately rely on basic skills like historical research and hacking to get their results. If you like a blend of horror, supernatural and science fiction delivering a police procedural outcome, this is a very good trilogy to read.