Onion thinks she’s tough, but then she gets snatched from her foster home and finds out she’s not as tough as she thinks. Kidnapped by the de facto head of Kingston’s seedy underworld and promised to a trafficker known only as the Toymaker, she’s dragged around a city of non-citizens by Reah, the two of them chained together by circumstance and the explosive device implanted in Onion’s neck. Now Onion has three days to figure out an escape route, and all she has going for her is a smart mouth and never-say-die attitude.
This is definitely not a book for the faint-hearted. Told almost entirely from the point of view of its main protagonist, Onion, it has an almost overpowering intensity to it that makes it difficult to put down. It’s one hell of a roller-coaster of a read, dark, brutal, violent and bleak, and yet somehow it also manages to be uplifting and hopeful just when you think there’s no way out.
The main character of Onion is every rebellious teenager from the wrong side of the tracks, but turned up to eleven and then some. Dragging herself from one crisis to the next through a combination of sheer bloody-mindedness and extreme snark she somehow manages to invoke sympathy from the reader, even when she’s at her most obnoxious, her most hateful. As a result she’s one of those protagonists you’re either going to love or hate, but whichever it is you’re still going to root for her when the chips are down.
Of the other characters, Reah is ostensibly the ‘hooker with a heart of gold’ stereotype, though she does occasionally show there’s something darker in her make-up. It’s Reah who’s tasked with the job of making sure Onion gets to the Toymaker on time, and while she seems dead set on making sure that happens (she’s paying off a debt to head honcho Milton) she does go out of her way to try to help Onion accept her new life in the ruins of Kingston. And then there’s Jacob.
Jacob is Reah’s closest friend, an amalgam of big brother, doting father and guardian angel, and of all the characters Onion encounters during her journey through Kingston he’s the one who seems the most genuine, the one who seems to be the most real. He’s probably the closest this book ever gets to presenting a good guy, though it’s fair to say that distinctions such as good and evil are more than a little moot when it comes to this particular tale. Better to say that if everybody is one shade of grey or another, Jacob is the one who’s closest to white.
At the other end of the scale we have the bad guys, Milton Mooluke, Shard and Nails. Milton is the king of Kingston, the seemingly undisputed head of the criminal underworld that runs things in the remains of the city, the heir to the kingdom originally set up by his father, Books Mooluke. Milton is quite definitely a nasty piece of work, but he also comes across as being highly insecure in his power, constantly aware of the fact he hasn’t earned the respect his position should demand. He makes mistakes, and some of those mistakes have repercussions that he seems far from ready to handle.
His two chief enforcers are Shard and Nails. Sister and brother, these two are chalk and cheese in the way they work. Shard is cold, quiet and calculating, never using more than the minimum effort to achieve her goals, while Nails is more like a hyperactive attack dog with rabies and a thing for hammers, hence the name. Both of these inflict terror in their own way, but of the two it’s Nails that creates the most immediate, in-your-face horror. Maybe because he makes no secret about how much he enjoys his work.
If you like high-octane tales set in a dystopian future then this is definitely a book to look out for. I for one enjoyed it far than I thought I would, and I can’t wait for the next instalment in the life of Onion.