8 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: Linked by Imogen Howson

Title: Linked

Author: Imogen Howson

Genre: Dystopia, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult

Linked (US) Linked (UK)

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (US) / Quercus (UK)
Publication Date: June 2013 (US) / August 2013 (UK)
Hardcover: 368 Pages

Elissa used to have it all: looks, popularity, and a bright future. But for the last three years, she’s been struggling with terrifying visions, phantom pains, and mysterious bruises that appear out of nowhere.

Finally, she’s promised a cure: minor surgery to burn out the overactive area of her brain. But on the eve of the procedure, she discovers the shocking truth behind her hallucinations: she’s been seeing the world through another girl’s eyes.

Elissa follows her visions, and finds a battered, broken girl on the run. A girl—Lin—who looks exactly like Elissa, down to the matching bruises. The twin sister she never knew existed.

Now, Elissa and Lin are on the run from a government who will stop at nothing to reclaim Lin and protect the dangerous secrets she could expose—secrets that would shake the very foundation of their world.

Riveting, thought-provoking and utterly compelling, Linked will make you question what it really means to be human.

Stand alone or series: Book 1 in the Linked series

How did I get this book: Bought

Format (e- or p-): Print Book

Why did I read this book: Initially, I honestly had no interest in this book based on the cover and the lackadaisical jacket copy – but then I learned this was actually a science fiction novel (!) and one that was quickly earning shining reviews. So, when I saw Linked at my local store on sale, I immediately scooped it up.


Lissa is thirteen when the pain starts.

At first, it’s flashes of experience; impossible sensations, images and memories glimpsed through another person’s eyes. From a young age, Elissa has learned to ignore those visions, pretending that they have faded completely to appease her mother and doctors. But when she turns thirteen, the harmless images turn brutal. Plagued by wretched headaches, blinding pain, and mysterious bruises the show up without any discernible cause, sixteen year old Lissa’s last three years have been a nightmare. None of the many, many doctors and treatments she’s tried over the years have worked, her grades and future prospects are slipping, her friends and any hope at normalcy gone forever. The last specialist Lissa sees, however, has the promise of a cure – a surgical procedure that will burn out the overactive part of her brain responsible for the lucid hallucinations. But there’s something about the last vision that Lissa has, and the strangely insistent questions the doctor keeps asking about Lissa’s symptoms, that strike her as strange. And then, the kicker: Lissa discovers that her “hallucinations” are actual visions, stolen glances through another girl’s eyes. Her twin’s eyes.

Everything and everyone Lissa has ever trusted is a lie. With no one to turn to, not even her parents, Lissa and her unnamed sister are on the run from a government that will do anything to keep the existence of twins – “Spares” – a secret.

Well, wow. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I started Linked – in fact, I was hesitant to pick up the book until I saw a number of positive reviews (from trusted sources) start to roll in. I didn’t expect the book to be as good – nay, awesome – as it is. The twin-connection trope is a pretty familiar standby (heck, even earlier this year I can immediately think of a novel that features the same central idea of one girl getting hurt, while her twin manifests the same bruises/pain storyline), so I wasn’t particularly drawn to the premise until I learned about the science fiction twist. That’s right. Linked is a science fiction novel, complete with spaceships, warp drives, interplanetary politics and economics. And I loved it.

You see, Linked is set in the distant future, on a mineral rich planet called Sequoia. For human colonization and exploitation purposes, Sequoia was quickly terraformed with near disastrous results (indigenous life started dying out, etc); thanks to a breakthrough in interplanetary travel, however, the planet was brought back from the brink of collapse and quickly became one of the most powerful, civilized, safe places in the Interplanetary Alliance.

Of course, peace comes at a high cost, and I absolutely LOVE that Linked is very much a “utopia” proven to be a dystopia in the truest understanding of the subgenre and concept of a dystopic society birthed of the best of intentions. I LOVE that we see this idyllic world shattered before the eyes of heroine Elissa, as she discovers the horror of experimentation that was happening to her sister – whom the government has branded a “non-human human sourced entity,” with no rights to humane treatment or even life. I love how smart this book is, tackling issues like xenophobia and discrimination, action versus passivity, by prodding each of the characters to answer a simple, but key question: what would you do? At one pivotal point in the story, when Lissa and her twin Lin have bared all to a crew aboard a small spacecraft, each character must decide whether to trust in their government (or look the other way) and think of Lin as nothing more than property that they should not get involved with, or as a human being entitled to all the rights and privileges of life. It’s a very clever way of examining some hot topic issues – the concept and argument of partial and full human cloning comes into play, as do the questions of privilege, basic human rights, and – in a very timely way – the question of governmental power.

Beyond thought-provoking questions and themes, did I also mention that this is a science fiction book that involves telekinesis? Yeah. It is. You see, in addition to being twins, Lin has an ability to do impossible things with her mind. She can pick up on mechanical and electrical processes faster than anyone else, and she can manipulate these electrical currents and fields with her mind. While this might seem like a lot to swallow (in a dystopian science fiction novel, no less), Imogen Howson does a seamless job of integrating this very important aspect of Lin and Lissa’s characters into the story.

Speaking of characters, this is another field in which Linked excels. During the novel, we are mostly privy to Lissa’s thoughts; Lin comes into the story later and remains, at least initially, a distant character with unclear motives. I love that even though the two girls are sisters and identical twins, and even though they share an inexplicable telepathic bond, it takes a long time for the both of them to become comfortable with one another, to trust one another. This issue of trust is the big, central conflict for both characters, in fact. I love that Lissa is never quite sure of what Lin is thinking or how her sister perceives other people (having been locked away in a bunker with other “non-humans” and brutally experimented upon for her entire life, Lin is understandably NOT very endeared to fellow “humans”). The bond that grows between the sisters is one fraught with tension, but a beautiful one of strength and eventual trust, and I really, really loved reading about both girls as they come to understand one another.

Really, trust is the major theme of Linked – do you trust your sister, your parents, your government? Do you trust in their decisions blindly, or do you forge your own path? This question of trust is a provocative and central thread to the novel, and one I felt Howson executed brilliantly.

On the negative side (and these aren’t really BAD negatives) the plotting, though contains twists, was extremely obvious from the start. The Big Bad Secrets that are revealed in the book (namely, the motivation for the goverment’s experimentation on “Spares”) is telegraphed early on in the novel. I don’t hold that against Linked, because everything comes together in a nicely thought-out, clever way – even if it is a tad obvious. Beyond plotting, I feel like I should say something about the romance angle – which actually, in my opinion, worked. The Young Adult science fiction and dystopian romances I’ve read in the recent past tend to make me cringe (by cringe I mean claw my eyes out), because they inevitably contain one of three terribly written basic tropes: the fated mate trope, the insta-love trope, or the I’ve-always-loved-you-and-you-never-knew-it trope. The romance in Linked leans towards the last on this list (cross-pollinated with the I-hate-you-but-really-I-love-you trope). When done poorly, these romantic combinations are comical; when they are done well, they are…well, fun. Linked, I’m happy to say, is one of the successful romances on the spectrum (and you’ll be happy to know that it is FIRMLY on the backburner and wouldn’t even have developed at all if it weren’t for a few key plot twists).

Flaws said, Linked is a damn good book, and I finished the novel eager to read the next book in the series. I loved this clever, thought-provoking science fiction dystopia, and it is absolutely a contender for one of my favorite (or at least notable) books of 2013.

Notable Quotes/Parts:

In the half-hour since Lissa and her mother had entered the waiting-room, the sky above Canyon City had changed. At first blue, the colour deep enough to drown in, in the last ten minutes it had thinned to twilight green, a little hazy where it curved down behind the far side of the canyon, where the spaceport stood.

As Lissa watched, trying to ignore the tightness in her chest and that her palms were damp enough to leave handprints on the polished wooden windowsill, far below, the city lights began to blink awake, lines and scatters of light pricking up through the darkening air.
Then, as the waiting-room lights came on, too, everything—sky, spaceport, city—all vanished behind a reflection of the room where she stood.

At the far side of the room, Lissa’s mother, Elaine Ivory, sat, straight-backed and exquisitely thin, a book in her hands. In the adjacent corner, by the side of the chocolate brown couch, amber lights glowed behind a tiny waterfall that ran over a tumble of pebbles into a small pool. A slim silver drinks machine stood in the other corner, discreetly lit buttons indicating the range of drinks: cappuccino, herb tea, sparkling peach juice, white wine. Quiet in the background, music—chimes and harpstrings—trickled from invisible speakers.

Lissa had thought she was quite an expert on doctors’ waiting-rooms—God knows, she’d sat in enough of them—but this one was very different from the others. This one has money.
Well, he would, wouldn’t he?

Her hands were sweaty again. She eased them off the shiny windowsill and wiped them surreptitiously on her neatly creased trousers, flicking a glance to where her mother sat.
Money. And status, enough to keep us waiting and know we won’t walk out. Of course we won’t walk out—where else am I going to go?

Rating: 8 – Excellent

Reading Next: Archer’s Goon by Diana Wynne Jones

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  • hapax
    July 30, 2013 at 9:25 am

    Set in the far distant future, and characters are still reading books in waiting rooms?

    I believe I’ll read this, just for that vote of confidence!

  • Thea
    July 30, 2013 at 9:29 am

    Hapax – INDEED! Though it seems most books are of the ebook on a tablet variety, there are a few parts of Linked when Lissa refers to “old fashioned paper” and such. On a serious note, this book (in whatever format you decide to read it!) is really, surprisingly wonderful and I hope you like it. :mrgreen:

  • Linda W
    July 30, 2013 at 10:03 am

    Excellent observation by hapax. I’m also intrigued by this, since it rated an 8,

  • April Books & Wine
    July 30, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    I am super oblivious so I don’t think I’d spot the twists. Oh my god the worldbuilding and characterization make me want to overlook the dumb cover and give this one a chance. I think I may do that!

  • Kendra
    July 31, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    I’m halfway done with this book and I love it. It could so easily have been about the horribly abused character who escaped her situation with no emotional baggage, is 100% capable, and ends up having to take care of the bratty, privileged girl, who, because she’s led a normal life, can’t do anything herself. It’s so much more realistic that Lin needs Lissa not only for emotional support, but on how to navigate a world she’s never been a part of. Their relationship reminds me of a very toned down Sarah and Helena from Orphan Black. That they need each other to survive is so refreshing after the spate of Katniss-like heroines.

    *slight spoilers*
    I haven’t gotten that far, but it would be really interesting if Lin’s “brain differences” were real, and resulted in her sociopathy. So many dystopian books that deal with discrimination do so with characters who are really just the same as everyone else. An interesting twist would be for the doctors to be right, that spares are innately different, possibly in a dangerous way, but still show that their treatment is wrong. I think that’s a little more challenging and believable within the context of the book than if the people being discriminated against are really just the same.

    Also, the whole connection was supposed to break while they were kids but didn’t thing, totally made me think of What’s Left of Me.
    *end spoilers*

    Can’t wait to get home and finish it!

  • Cassie
    August 1, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    I read this a few weeks ago. I read a lot of young adult books to make sure they’re appropriate for my avid reader daughter (and i love YA fiction myself). I thought this was good, it grabbed me from the start and is well suited for a 12 year old and up. I really liked that it takes place on another planet. I’ll definitely read the next book in the series!

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