Extracted was originally published a few years ago, but this edition is apparently “expanded” and contains “bonus material”. I don’t know about that, but I do know that I had never heard of this series until now, and that makes me sad. I’m glad that I got a copy of this to review through NetGalley, because Sherry D. Ficklin and Tyler Jolley have written some fun and original time travel here.
The setup is easy to explain and quite exciting: the two protagonists belong to two competing factions of time travellers. Does that not sound intriguing? The book alternates between their viewpoints, so we get to see Ember’s training as part of the technologically-advanced Tesla Institute and Lex’s fun times as part of the grittier Hollows. To up the stakes, your first time travel journey wipes away most of your long-term memories, giving you a suspiciously clean slate. As Ember and Lex’s timelines converge, their past identities become important while all hell breaks loose.
The idea of competing time travel factions is brilliant. I picture the Tesla Institute as being brightly lit, chrome and white, while the Hollows’ Wardenclyffe Tower is much dingier and dirtier. We see rival time travellers on occasion, of course, but Ficklin and Jolley have distilled the idea down into a simple, eminently workable concept. I love the somewhat divergent philosophies of the two groups, with the Teslas’ reliance on a technological Tether to “rift” through the time-stream while the Hollows use biologically-produced “Contra” pills to rift. More importantly, Ficklin and Jolley pull of the tight-rope walk of not making either faction seem superior in terms of ideology.
For the first half of the book or so, we get to see both approaches to time travel. We hear Ember and the Teslas criticize the irresponsibility of the Hollows while Lex and his buddies put down the Teslas. Of course, one can’t help but wonder if the truth of the matter is somewhere in between the two stories … but Ficklin and Jolley don’t rush us to this crisis. We get to see a sufficient amount of time travel first, enough to establish ground rules without too much exposition.
Time travel stories often go wrong by trying to exploit the mechanics of time travel in a mind-bendy way but then failing to live up to its expectations. Ficklin and Jolley walk another fine line here, but I think they succeed. Extracted is full of predestination paradoxes and information loops and other timey-wimey goodness, but at the end, it all makes sense. Well, as much sense as any time travel story can.
While time travel becomes a vehicle for conflict, and helps create that conflict, this is still ultimately a story about humans and human relationships. You might think, this being YA, that Ember and Lex are destined to fall in lurrrrve, maybe with a lurrrrve triangle sneaking in somewhere there. I don’t want to spoil it; I’ll just say the truth is more complex than that. I love how Extracted continuously and consistently raises the stakes and has characters adapt to the situation at hand: enemies become allies as the situation dictates, even if there is reluctance on both sides. I like that everyone has a part to play, but that not everyone plays the same part. Kara and Ethan are a great example like this: they are both forced to choose between their loyalty to Ember as a friend and their loyalty to Tesla. They make different choices, consistent with their characters. As situations change and the characters learn new information, their loyalties, alliances, and choices change accordingly, even as they seek to achieve their unchanging goals.
It’s a little bit selfish of Lex to risk a universe-destroying paradox just to save someone he loves, but hey, if Superman can do it for Lois Lane, I guess Lex gets one.
(No, Lex is not secretly Lex Luthor. You get that spoiler for free.)
If I have any complaint or critique, it’s merely that parts of this book are not as deep as I’d like. One of the early scenes, where we first see Lex and the rest of the Hollows at their hideout, gave me serious PTSD flashbacks to Shadowhunters and its secret facility. I kept picturing Lex and Stein in terrible fake leather outfits play fighting before they go off to clubs (because young people all hang out in clubs and wear fake leather like a network TV ripoff of Blade, right?). The impromptu fight/training sequence between those two felt a little too much like an attempt to establish Extracted as a “cool” and “hip” action book. Similarly, there is a very awkward name-drop that foreshadows Ember and Lex’s connected identities. For a book so deeply connected to the Lost Imperials and a specific moment in history, Ficklin and Jolley do little to explore that connection beyond that single scene and a few other throwaway bits of exposition.
I guess one of the benefits of republication is that I don’t have to wait to read the next books in the series! Extracted is everything I look for in a good time travel novel, so I look forward to tracking down the next books and continuing the story of the fight between Teslas, Hollows, and whatever else lurks out there in the time-stream.
(Just a note, more for my sake than anyone else’s, but this is my 100th finished book of 2016!)