Series: CatNet #2
Published by: Macmillan-Tor/Forge
ISBN 13: 9781250165220
Published: April 2021
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended
Related Reviews: Catfishing on CatNet (#1 CatNet)
I begged for there to be a second book after reading Catfishing on CatNet and my dreams were answered, almost as if CheshireCat was listening in on my conversation. (If only I were so lucky!) So we’re back with the team. Not much time has passed since the ending of the first book. Enough time for Steph’s mum to have made some progress on her therapy and for Steph to start at yet another new school. Only this time it’s under her actual name, with all of her transcripts and with nothing to hide. Her dad is in jail and they’re no longer on the run.
Things never appear like they’re going to be quiet around poor Steph, though. On her first day in her new school she meets Nell who has been homeschooled up until the point her mother disappeared. Although their family always seems to have been religious (on the mother’s side at least), for the past two years they’ve been in a cult. But since her mother’s disappeared Nell has been sent to live with her father (who walked out on them when she was young). He now lives with a new wife, who has a girlfriend, and he (Nell’s dad) has a girlfriend himself. They all live together, so Nell now has a family of four adults in a nice polyamory family-unit. Despite Nell’s cult-religious upbringing she has a girlfriend herself, so I’m not entirely sure why this initially seems to disgust Nell when she’s telling Steph about it – perhaps it’s just in the way of ‘eugh adults’.
Either way, Nell seems to have baggage. It also appears as though her girlfriend (who was also part of the cult) has disappeared, and she fears she’s been sent to one of those illegal but probably-still-exist conversion therapy retreats under the guise of being ‘therapeutic Christian boarding schools’ or something. This is something that Steph asks CheshireCat to look into for them, but even our favourite AI is having trouble tracking her down… which, if you know what it’s able to do certainly says a lot for where Nell’s girlfriend must be stashed.
There are also Pokemon Go style games and websites popping up more and more around the place – the kind that track where you are and give real-world quests, though as the book goes on they get more sinister. Instead of ‘walk 12k to hatch an egg to get a low-IV boring pokemon’, you get ‘walk into this hardware store, steal a hammer, leave it in this box for someone else to pick up’ and that kind of thing. And then riots and mass group activities start happening, where, at least, we see a version of the police that the author hopes could be reality someday… but more on that later.
It also seems as though there’s another AI out there, one who is contacting CheshireCat, saying that they know who and what they are. This is the main crux of the book, and although everything ties in together (as well as into events from the first book, so you’d really have to read that one before coming into this one) is all about how we function as people – whether we are hardwired to be a certain way or if we grow organically, made of things around us. Even with AI this is the case, such as CheshireCat liking photos of cats rather than videos of dogs, and that sort of thing.
We see most of the cast of the first book with a bonus introduction of a grandmother Steph never knew existed. The bonus about this book being set 10+ years into the future is that even the older generation have pretty incredible skills – this grandmother can steal cars and was one heavily into drag racing, so she’s their ticket in and out of some fairly tight situations.
Overall I found this book bleaker than the first. The riots, the religion, and everyone willingly doing absolutely stupid things because an app tells you to and so forth… it was all a bit depressing. I have no doubts that this was its intended impact, and it’s not as though the first book was all sunshine and kittens – it has a father trying to steal a child and guns and things after all, but this book… I don’t know. It hit a little too close to home, I suppose. This series certainly does make you stop and think for a while about all the tech we surround ourselves with, how easily we click allow to give various apps access to microphones, photos, app data and so on…
But one of the positives was the police force. In the afterword the author references the tragic and disturbing death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. To that end, as this book is set in the future, the author has given us a police force she hopes they can work towards – one that isn’t threatening, one that seeks to help rather than hinder, and so forth. One of the interactions show them trying to get Steph a warmer coat when she finds herself out at night in freezing conditions, for instance. Seeing speculative fiction edging us towards this future to help make it a reality is something I want to see more of, certainly.
I demolished this book in a day so I clearly couldn’t put it down and I needed to know what happened next. I also would love to see a third book. I just hope that Steph, Rachel, Nell, Glenys and CheshireCat can all go somewhere nice. Maybe it’s time they attend a convention and save the Concom from something. That’d be awesome.