Riebeckite - Book Review
Sci Fi / Thriller
I received this book from the author! The free copy in no way affected my review of the novel.
Riebeckite is a well-wrought, exciting novel focusing on how, like usual, the greatest threat to our planet is most often our own species.
What is Riebeckite?
What if you learned an environmental crisis the world thought it had under control was actually an alien invasion?
Growing up in the aftermath of an asteroid moon strike which showered the earth with deadly spores, Tahira promised her childhood friend, Zareen, that overcoming the crisis would one day unite their feuding Azerbaijani (azer bi jahh ni) and Iranian people.
Tahira is now a biologist for a corporation constructing experimental towers which force the spores, known as ‘riebeckites’, to germinate into harmless colonies. Rumours of riebeckite colonies forming into flesh-eating, animal-mimicking monsters in the Iranian Annex are largely dismissed as propaganda from the Talafi, an Iranian militant group who oppose Azeri occupation.
But when Tahira makes a discovery linking these stories to the Skyscrubber towers, her own employer suppresses her findings and frames her as a Talafi collaborator. In a race for her freedom and her life, Tahira has only one person she can rely on: Zareen, now an Iranian freedom fighter. Together they must escape Azeri police and Talafi militants, and survive the horrifying next stage of the riebeckites’ development. Only if they expose the truth can the world unite against a danger which has been gathering at its feet while everyone was watching the sky.
It’s a sci-fi thriller with a big focus on realism, near-future science, action, and a smattering of politics. In terms of the type of action, it’s not a zombie book but it’s a take on the genre we don’t often see. I really enjoyed it and highly recommend it.
The book is well put-together too - a testament to self-publishing. The cover, formatting, proofreading … it’s all excellent.
But what is "riebeckite," the word? Simply put, it’s a mineral. Broadly, one form of this mineral is blue asbestos, the most hazardous kind. I think it’s clever that the spine of the novel is blue. Riebeckite, or colloquially, reebs, are what the blue spores from the moon are called as well. Onwards to the story itself. The plot is great. The concept behind the reebs and how they manifest, as well as what happens to them later in the story makes sense and doesn’t go off on a huge “save-the-world” showdown.
Similarly, unlike a lot of thriller actions, it didn’t go off the rails with the pacing at the end either. While there were lots of action scenes (far more in the second half than the first), it didn’t feel like Tahira had turned into some superhero who didn’t need to sleep or eat. In truth, she was realistic and relatable. A very normal woman who reacts in ways that are understandable and clever. The story is complex but not complicated, with cogs that move in the background of the story that propels it forward.
The novel has intricate attention to detail. Little things mentioned in passing come back but not in a way that feels like a set-up; it flowed naturally and it was fun when these things returned to have relevance.
Tahira, as the main character, is as deep as she needed to be for the story. It’s not a psychological profile of a woman, but she has foibles, a phobia, passion, a past, family, and friends. She’s brilliant but also a dorky nerd at times. She has agency throughout the story and takes action in ways that suit her personality. Zareen was the cool badass character that worked well as a foil to Tahira as well as an impetus for growth. I could have used more flashbacks to their time as children to cement their relationship, but their closeness was believable. One of the things that was most apparent was how much Tahira hated her boss, Khavari, yet he wasn’t a hyperbolic villain but just a nefarious person who is also a huge asshole.
The other characters were easy to tell apart and their roles were clear. I did feel something when they got hurt.
The setting is really cool. I don’t think I’ve read a novel set in Azerbaijan before, so this was a refreshing change of scenery for me. The first chapters deal with a pogrom to expel Iranians from Azerbaijan, leaving the Iranians, years later, annexed. This was a setting that was entirely believable and served the plot well too. The first chapter is really harrowing and very well done.
I will say I wish the prose was a bit more punchy. While I found it clear and concise and moved quickly, I do wish it has a few more flowery, metaphorical moments thrown into the descriptions. Everything is approached from an almost scientific angle, so you can picture everything perfectly, but I could have done with more evocative similes. This is a preference thing though. Those of scientific mind or background will likely really enjoy the writing.
Overall, thank you to the author for the book - I really enjoyed it. I highly recommend it to those who like thrillers with sci-fi aspects, fans of Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, and Michael Crichton's science-based thrillers.