The Furies

ScienceThrillers.com review of THE FURIES

by Mark Alpert


BlueStar4

(excellent; top 30% of SciThri)

Publication date: April 22, 2014
Category: science thriller
Tech rating (out of 5; what does this mean?):

Biohazard4

Summary (from the publisher):

For centuries, the Furies have lived among us. Long ago they were called witches and massacred by the thousands. But they’re human just like us, except for a rare genetic mutation that they’ve hidden from the rest of the world for hundreds of years.

Now, a chance encounter with a beautiful woman named Ariel has led John Rogers into the middle of a secret war among the Furies. Ariel needs John’s help in the battle between a rebellious faction of the clan and their elders. The grand prize in this war is a chance to remake the human race.

ScienceThrillers review:

The Furies is science novelist and journalist Mark Alpert’s latest gift to the science thriller genre, following his spectacular Extinction (2013). Furies is set in the present-day U.S. but offers an alternative history backstory, tilting it a little more toward speculative fiction than his other books. After a prologue set during a 17th century witch hunt in Europe, this fast-paced, imaginative thriller begins in New York with the collision of lonely guy John Rogers and a mysterious, alluring woman named Ariel. To his delight and surprise, a one-night stand begins, only to be violently interrupted. Instinctively John commits to helping Ariel, and from then on, their fates are linked.

Ariel gives John frustratingly little information about who she is, and who is trying to kill her. Their trek leads them back to John’s home territory in Philadelphia, where we meet a poignant character, an old friend of John’s who fell from being a respected surgeon to being a junkie who caters to the medical needs of the drug trade. Onward they rush toward a secretive farm collective on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, by way of a spectacular scene involving Mackinac Island and the ferry across Lake Michigan. John learns more than he should about Ariel and her family, the Furies. Because the Furies rely on secrecy to protect themselves from a hostile world, his knowledge marks him for execution.

I won’t reveal the Furies various secrets here, but I will mention that the science in this science thriller is related to the Furies X-linked mutation in a gene they call Fountain. Alpert does a great job of explaining sex-linked traits and providing a biological explanation for the unequal status of men and women in Fury society, invoking sound principles of gene regulation and protein-protein interactions. He even includes a Punnett square on one page! (Penalty, however, for hitting a pet peeve of mine: Herbal remedies are ascribed miraculous healing powers that only the Furies apparently are smart enough to notice.)

In the second part of the novel, the bond between Ariel and John grows ever stronger inside the Fury compound as Ariel struggles to complete her scientific work, to save John’s life, and to save her family and community from the twin threats of exposure and violent rebellion. With the rebellion, Alpert uses the opportunity to explore intriguing questions about aging and death, and about the instability of a society in which one group is inherently advantaged over another.

Despite the love affair in the plot, The Furies is no romance. It’s edgier and more violent than Alpert’s previous work. Both Ariel and John are forced to show deep physical and emotional resilience to reach the conclusion, after much loss. The ending partly ignores the near-impossibility of the Furies being able to maintain secrecy in the 21st century (specifically, the problem of engaging with the banking system without suitable identity verification), but the genius and wit of the characters and the Fury leadership make it acceptable to believe the story’s resolution.

The Furies is a top-notch thriller with real science, just what we like here at ScienceThrillers.com.

FCC disclaimer: An advance reader copy of this book was given to me for review. As always, I made no guarantee that I would read the book or post a positive review.

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