Tracer | Rob Boffard | 2015 | Orbit | 398p | Review copy | Buy the book
The remnants of humanity live aboard a decaying, tired space station that orbits the dying planet below. Many of the ship’s systems are in disrepair, its lifepods are gone, clean walls are now not even a memory, and the focus is on the labs that supply the station with air, water and food. It’s not pleasant food, either. It’s made from bugs. The only way to carry precious items from deck to deck is by tracer – parkour leaping athletes who jump and leap around the space station with an abandon that few aboard the station can feel. The tracers are divided into competitive teams, they are paid by barter and they never, ever look at what they’re carrying. Riley is quite possibly the best of them all but on one particular day she is waylaid by one of the station’s gangs, her bag torn from her back and her package spilt. The gang take just one look and they turn heel and run. Riley is delivering the package to the most dangerous man on the station Darnell and when Riley too takes a look at her parcel she writes her own death sentence. Darnell will not stop in his hunt to find Riley and silence her for good. Killing and torturing is what Darnell does for fun.
Darnell has a secret. The countdown has begun. He announces to the entire station that it has just forty-eight hours and then it will be over for them all. Riley has to draw on all of her resources, as well as her fellow tracers and friends, to stay one step ahead of Darnell and stop him in his tracks before she pays the ultimate price for his sinister ambition.
From its very first page, Tracer leaps into life and the pace doesn’t drop until the end. With a present tense narrative that splits between the first person voice of Riley and the third person perspectives of Darnell and Prakesh, Riley’s dearest friend, the momentum never eases. Rob Boffard takes us on a breathless tour of a dangerous, tired space station, now under threat by terrorism and all that this entails – fire, explosions, murder, panic. Running through it all is Riley. She knows that Darnell is hiding a secret, that his men are pursuing her, but Riley is not easily beaten. But there is a greater risk – the terrorists may have ventured deeper into the space station than anyone might suspect.
While Tracer is entertaining throughout, the story actually suffers in places because it takes such a clear second place to the action. The first third is good indeed and it is hard for the rest of it, particularly the ending, to live up to the beginning. The mystery is almost anti-climactic. Likewise, the relentless pace leaves little time for us to get to know Riley and Prakesh, or feel invested in their relationship. With Darnell there’s less difficulty – he’s fabulously nasty. The age of the heroine and her journey of discovery did, in a fair few ways, remind of Young Adult fiction and I think younger readers would enjoy this very much.
Tracer is Rob Boffard’s debut novel and it bodes well for an exciting future. This is not an easy novel to put down, the space station dramatically imagined, and I look forward to seeing where we are taken next.
This review forms part of the Blog Tour to celebrate the publication of Tracer today. For other stops of the tour, take a look at the poster below.