Wednesday, February 27, 2013

"Altered," by Jennifer Rush

The Protagonist: Anna O'Brien. Raised in backwoods New York with her workaholic single father, she likes to help out with his important work...
Her Angst: ...experimenting on four super-hot super-powered guys in the secret lab in his basement. Four super-hot super-powered guys who are not very pleased about being locked in that secret lab.

Secondary Characters:

Sam: The Super-Mysterious Love Interest One. He's so mysterious!

Nick: The Angry One! But he's got a Tragic Past!

Cas: The Dumb Blond! He's so cute but so stupid!

Trev: The Nonthreatening Bestie! He knows all of Anna's secrets!

Connor: The leader of The Branch, the super-shady outfit that funds Anna's father's research on Operation Hot Abs for Science.

Riley: Connor's second in command, who tracks the escaped subjects of Operation Hot Abs for Science.

Angst Checklist:
  • Absent Parents
  • Free Will
  • Gee, Could There Be Ethical Implications to Keeping Hot Boys In Cages?
  • Gee, Could There Be Ethical Implications to Being In Love with a Hot Boy I Help Keep in a Cage?
  • Who's Your Mama Drama
  • Abs For Great Justice
  • Identity and Memory
  • Mad Science!
The Tweets: I Live-Tweeted this little masterpiece here.

The Word: Well, I don't know what I really expected with this book. I picked up the ARC at last year's BEA because the idea of a heroine dealing with Hot Boys In a Science Lab sounded interesting.

And I pretty much got exactly that - Hot Boys in a Science Lab. And nothing else.

Anna is just an ordinary, everyday girl with a Mysteriously Dead Mother and a Secret Science Lab in her dad's basement. Imprisoned in that basement are four Desperately Hot Amnesiac Boys who have undergone genetic enhancements at the orders of Daddy's Totally Not Shady Organization, known as The Branch. 

Anna helps take care of the boys, who are being groomed and altered to become either a) super soldiers or b) the World's Most Expensive One Direction Cover Band. We have Trev - the Non-Threatening Happy One. Cas - the Dumb Blond One. Nick - the Angry But Damaged One. And finally, Sam - the Extra-Mysterious Love Interest One. Anna has been in love with Sam for five years and inexplicably reconciles this really well with the fact that she helps keep him and his bros in cages and doses them with happy gas once a week in order to perform non-consensual tests on them.

But it's all good because she also bakes them cookies and gets them library books. You know, almost as if they were people.

Everything changes when two head honchos from The Branch arrive with a small army of minions to take the boys away because this latest stage of the project is shutting down. Anna is distraught, and suspects the honchos are up to no good - but since her morality radar doesn't so much as beep at the idea of Underage Boys Being Experimented on in Glass Boxes, it's hard to tell whether her fears are legit or she if just doesn't want strangers taking her living Ken Dolls out of her Barbie's Dream Science Horror Basement.

However - surprise! Sam's not as helpless as they assume and he brutally kills eight minions before breaking the other boys out. Anna's dad grows a conscience in three seconds flat and helps them escape, and orders Anna to escape with them. Of course, Anna is still in True Love with Sam, so nothing as pesky as the mass murder of eight people will dim her Speshul Feelings for him, so she flees into the night with Happy, Dopey, Angry, and Love Interest.

There are a few glimmers of originality in this story, I'll admit. Apparently, before Anna started helping her father in the lab, Sam escaped a bunch of times and had to have his memory (and the memories of his bros) wiped each time, but not before leaving a series of clues tattooed and scarred on his own body (and on the bodies of his bros!) that indicate the coordinates of safehouses, the contact information of potential allies, and even the location of hidden evidence that might be enough to buy Happy, Dopey, Angry and Love Interest's freedom. These sorts of clues kept up my interest in the story, but only barely.

Because honestly? This book was like one, big, stinky pile of stale fan service. Oh gee, the boys have clues literally written on their abs that only Anna with her keen eyesight and a UV flashlight can detect?  Boys who all (with the exception of Angry Nick) adore and want to protect Anna because, hey, in between being drugged and gassed and poked with needles and having their memories erased and their rights infringed upon - she made them cookies! That counts for something, doesn't it?

None of the boys have any serious character development beyond displaying Their One Personality Trait. The Dumb Blond One makes Dumb Jokes. The Angry one acts Angry. The Happy One is Anna's sexually nonthreatening Bestie. Their abs and glutes have more dimension then their personalities do.

This all would have been bad enough if Anna had been anything more than the most empty and passive of Placeholder heroines.

Unfortunately, she's not. She spends the vast majority of this book tagging along with the boys and doing whatever they tell her to while trying desperately not to get shot at. She has no ambitions because leaving would mean spending a life without her Precious Boys. She has no moral identity until the plot demands it - she was happily complicit in the boys' imprisonment for five years and the book never examines this nor does she feel a shred of guilt for it. She makes no decisions, performs no actions that are not ordered, influenced, or motivated by a man - either the boys or her father

And guess what? She is one of only three female characters in the entire novel, and the other two get shot in the head mere pages after their introductions, and one of those is a minion who isn't even named.

The characters are empty ciphers for Blatant Wish-Fulfillment, the sci-fi worldbuilding is laughably shallow, and while the clues and puzzles are slightly clever, it's not enough to support an entire novel, much less a series!

If you like the idea of the Mad Science of Frankenstein and The Bourne Identity mixed with the troubling gender dynamics of Twilight, then this is your book.

If that last sentence terrified the living crap out of you, than do what I wished I'd done - and avoid this novel entirely.


  1. Hahahaha, I thought this one was a hot mess in an entertaining sort of way. I pretty much wrote it off in that mass murder scene. I remember that he's just shot her father (in the leg, but still), and he slams her violently up against the wall. After all of that violence and being physically abused, she just thinks about how close together their faces are. Really, bitch? Really?

    1. Heck yes. She was just so, so stupid. What really bothered me is that I actually thought they had a way to sidestep it.

      **spoilers** The boys have been programmed to love and obey Anna, right? So I actually thought they were going to indicate how Anna was also **programmed** to love Sam for the same reason, which would explain why it's out of the blue and causes her to act irrationally. That would have been an EXCELLENT story. And it would have made for some genuine conflict if she, for instance, developed feelings for someone else (like Angry Nick). Who would you go for - the one you're programmed to love, or the one you love naturally?

      See! Even I could write this novel better!