I wasn’t overly fond of Debris, Jo Anderton’s first book in this series, and I approached Suited with trepidation. I wasn’t sure Anderton had what it would take to grab me and make me enjoy this book. And as I started reading, and the characters felt flat and uninspiring, I resigned myself to another dull review. Then it got interesting. The characters began changing. The stakes got higher. And by the end of the book, I was furiously flipping electronic pages as I raced to discover what would happen—and suddenly, Anderton had proved me wrong. Well done!
So, Suited starts off in a lacklustre way. Tanyana’s team of debris collectors gets split up by the manipulative puppet men. Tanyana and Lad go to one, newly-formed team, while Lad’s protective brother, Kichlan, stays with some of the others. This split creates an interesting dynamic, with Tanyana and Lad having to look out for each other. For the most part, however, Suited starts off slow. There is too much drama about (and whining from) the Keeper, the mysterious being whom only Lad (and Tanyana, when suited) can interact with. The Keeper is intimately connected with the debris that Tanyana and other collectors are charged with retrieving, but Anderton keeps her cards very close to her chest until the end of the book. As a result, I was frustrated and not particularly interested in liking any of these characters. Yet I soldiered on.
One issue I had with Debris was the paucity of detailed worldbuilding. Anderton tossed around terms like the “veche”, and I gathered that the book was set in a city called Movoc-under-Keeper that is part of a larger country called Varsnia. However, we never get a sense of what kind of city or country these places are. We don’t get a very clear idea of the culture. Although there are hints that Varsnian society is highly stratified (Tanyana, before her accident, occupying that tenuous, upper-middle-class position of the nouveau bourgeoisie), there is very little description of how the ordinary citizens of Movoc-under-Keeper go about their lives. The pages are flat in this sense; they seem a little barren and empty in the background. On the macro level, we get almost no sense of the politics of this country. Suited does little to rectify the deficiencies of culture. However, it does clarify the relationships between the national and local veches and the puppet men. We learn about the origins of the puppet men and why the veche is interested in working with them, and all of this provides more context as Anderton sets up events for the third book.
I was also very frustrated with Tanyana’s lack of agency in Debris. Part of this is a natural response to suddenly being rendered powerless, friendless, and alone—not to mention suffering a major trauma. Nevertheless, the refrain that she was being manipulated and used by the puppet men, which is continued in this book, started to become repetitive and annoying. At least in Suited, though, the ways in which the puppet men are shaping Tanyana—and to what ends—become more clear. Anderton further develops the antagonism between the Keepers and the puppet men, and Tanyana’s role as a kind of pawn caught in the middle, effectively, albeit not necessarily with much skill or detail.
Suited’s weaknesses are quite similar to its predecessor in this respect. Anderton clearly has good ideas, but almost all of my dissatisfaction with these books are a result of her description—or lack thereof. She’s just frightfully vague at times. There are “doors” in the world that lead to a world of nothingness? It’s not exactly lazy writing, because I get the sense that she tries very hard. It just doesn’t quite measure up to my very exacting standards.
Somehow, though, everything pulls together in the final act. Tanyana has made some major discoveries. And finally, finally, she steps up and decides to go full metal jacket on the puppet men. (This is not a metaphor, as her suit is a metal-like substance!) The moment after Tanyana’s new fugitive status forces her hand and forces her to declare that “enough is enough” was a moment I had been waiting for since halfway through Debris, and experiencing it was sweet indeed. In concert with the disturbing transformations wracking Tanyana’s body, this declaration of war on the puppet men is a welcome (if predictable) turn of events.
(I wish Anderton could have done more with Tanyana’s pregnancy, however, because the way she treats it makes it seem more like a plot point than anything else.)
There are almost two climaxes in the book, the first acting as a motivator for the second. In Tanyana’s confrontation with Aleksey—who demonstrates what will become of her if she becomes merely a tool of the puppet men—we lose Lad. He sacrifices himself to save her, and in so doing provides Tanyana with the strength to forge ahead and survive, but at a cost. This leads to her declaration of war and taking the fight to the puppet men, who very nearly kick her ass. The last chapter is an adrenaline rush equivalent to nothing else in the rest of the book, not even the fight with Aleksey. Suddenly, the hints that Anderton has laid throughout the book come into focus—those not-so-subtle references to “programmers” start making sense. Again, the weakness of the description leaves me less-than-fully invested in the direction Anderton has chosen to take this story. I must admit to being intrigued, however!
Anyone who has read Debris and didn’t absolutely hate it should do themselves a favour and read Suited. It is progress, for the story and the writing show promising development. I am now very eager to read book three. There is probably no better compliment than that!