The Original by Brandon Sanderson and Mary Robinette Kowal : An Audiobook Review

In the near future, humans choose life – for a price. Injectable nanite technology is the lifeblood that flows through every individual wishing to experience the world through the lens of their own theme. While death from mortal wounds is still possible, life is made easier in a socially liberated society where automation and income equality allow passion pursuits to flourish over traditional work. Renewal stations are provided to every law-abiding citizen for weekly check-ins, which issue life-sustaining repairs in exchange for personal privacy. But what becomes of those who check out, of those who dare to resist immortality and risk being edited under the gaze of an identity-extracting government surveillance system?

When Holly Winseed wakes up in a hospital room, her memory compromised and a new identity imposed on her, a team of government agents wastes no time stating their objective. With intent to infiltrate and defeat the terrorist group ICON, the agents tell Holly that she is now a Provisional Replica and has one week to hunt down and kill her Original for the murder of her husband, Jonathan. If she succeeds, she’ll assume her Original’s place in society. If she fails, her life will end. Holly’s progress is monitored by an assigned contact that feeds her information as she confronts the blank, robotic world around her, discovering that others view life through the theme of their own choosing.

With her newly implanted combat and deduction skills, Holly fends off both attacks by terrorists and doubts about her own trustworthiness as clues lead her to her Original – and to the truth about Jonathan. In the end, one body remains and one walks away. Although questions persist, one thing is certain: Life will never be the same.

With all the craziness going on in the world right now I don’t have much to do after work these days besides play video games and read so I feel like I’m always on the hunt for something new to read or listen to. So when two of my favorite authors decided not only to work together and co-write a new novella but to announce and release it in the same two-week window I got pretty damn excited. I don’t think there is a single book that Sanderson or Kowal has written that I didn’t love and The Original was no exception. 

While I’m normally not a fan of short stories or novellas, I did not have any doubt that Brandon Sanderson or Mary Robinette Kowal would completely wow me with The Original as they did. Three and a half hours doesn’t seem like a lot of time to do much worldbuilding or characterization but somehow The Original managed to feel like a full novel to me by the time I had finished listening to it. This is such a short story that I think it would be hard to talk much about it without spoiling certain this for people so all I will say is that it is well worth the read or listen. Mary Winseed is a fantastic character and the novella manages to touch on some really great ideas and concepts that were fun to read about. 

I have to say though that I’m a little sad that I’ve somehow never listened to anything narrated by Julia Whelan before I thought she was absolutely fantastic. The Original would have been a good enough story on its own but I thought Julia really managed to bring the world and characters alive in a way that very few narrators manage to do. I think she would have easily made this a good book to listen to even if it hadn’t had such a good story. 

This really was a great story to listen to and I really hope that Brandon and Mary decide to collaborate together on more fantastic stories.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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