Although it's not as innovative nor as immediately impressive as Plow the Bones, the first book in the Apex Voices line, there is a lot to like about I Can Transform You. Maurice Broaddus has written a solid police procedural here with significant science fiction accents. Personally, I was hoping for more of the reverse - a solid science fiction story with police procedural accents - but I've tried not to let my expectations unduly influence my review.
The basic premise, along with the setting, really had me intrigued. I mean, a futuristic dystopia with alien towers rising above the clouds, has a very Blade Runner sort of appeal to it. Throw in a little synthetic drug addiction and an epidemic of suicides, and you've got a solid foundation on which to build a tale. Unfortunately, if there's one aspect where I found the story lacking, it's in the way it never fully exploits that setting. In fact, if you were to remove a few world-building scenes, the story itself wouldn't suffer in any way. It's a shame, because there seemed to be such potential there, but spectacle clearly wasn't Broaddus's intent here.
As a sci-fi tinged police procedural, the story does work very well, even if many of the elements are too familiar. Mac is a down-on-his-luck private investigator, an ex-cop who left the force after his conscience came into conflict with his career. Ade, on the other hand, is a perfectly good cop, but something of an outcast and a loner due to being part machine. When the love of Mac's life falls victim to one of those mysterious suicides, he tags along with Ade on the investigation, adding something of the buddy cop genre to the private eye noir.
Where the story really excels is in its ability to set (and sustain) a mood of dark hopelessness. It's a grim sort of tale, populated by men and women who have few aspirations beyond survival. The odds seem stacked against Mac and Ade from the start, but the two persevere as much to spite one another as anything else. Theirs is a relationship that reminds me a lot of the first Lethal Weapon movie, where a little dark humor and shared agony served to fill the void of suicidal dread and weary resignation that lay at the core of those reluctant partners.
The story is told very well, maintaining that noir-ish feel throughout. While I would have liked to see more in terms of world building, the glimpses of future technology (and the problems it creates) are varied and creative enough to keep you grounded in the griminess of tomorrow. Both main characters are well-developed, with great back stories, and the dialogue is extremely effective in conveying some valuable context to what's happening. Finally, the story itself takes a few interesting turns, leading to a resolution that actually managed to surprise me.Originally reviewed at Beauty in Ruins