Synopsis: A series of brutal murders has the homicide division of San Francisco’s Hub 9 working overtime. But as the bodies mount, they begin to question whether the attacks are random or somehow connected. When one of their own falls victim, Detective Salvi Brentt and her team join forces with the narcotics and cyber divisions to track down those responsible. They soon discover that a volatile new drug-tech experience, involving black market neural implants, has hit the streets, causing the epidemic of violence and missing persons. With the clock ticking and the death toll rising, Salvi must go deep undercover in the seedy Sensation club scene to find out who is behind the deadly drug-tech. But in the secretive playgrounds of the rich and powerful, some will stop at nothing to protect their empire…
Set in a near-future San Francisco where immersive technology and drugs result in a deadly cocktail for thrill-seekers, “The Sensation” is the second novel in The Salvation Series and the follow-up to the excellent neo-noir crime thriller, “The Subjugate”, which I reviewed back in October 2018 on this very blog. Written by Australian author Amanda Bridgeman, one key theme of the novels has been the dangers of technological implants and how it can be used to control and influence people for both good and bad reasons. The suppression of free will has been a recurring element in the novels and whereas “The Subjugate” asked questions about using technology to control psychotics and criminals, “The Sensation” looks at how technology can be used to increase pleasure.
While both novels share the same characters and themes, I found “The Sensation” to be a lot darker and ‘cyberpunk’ than its predecessor due to the focus on the illegal tech, neon lights and drugs ‘n’ clubs; which is a bit of a contrast to the plain living folks of Bountiful seen in “The Subjugate”. I really enjoyed how Bridgeman developed Salvi Brentt’s team into fully-realised characters, giving the book an ensemble vibe compared to the buddy-cop feel of the first novel. What initially begins as a series of unrelated murders eventually culminates into a spider’s web of a conspiracy with a deadly new drug at the heart of it, and with the nightclub district of The Sensation as the main setting, Bridgeman gets to do a futuristic version of the 80’s excess with ‘neo-yuppies’ indulging in all sorts of drug-fuelled perversions.
While Salvi Brentt has moved onto a new case, elements from her last case involving the Subjugates and the Solme Complex continue to lurk in the background. There are some surprising developments that end up creating stronger connections between Salvi and her curious nemesis: Subjugate-52. Formerly known as the sadistic serial killer Edward Moses, Subjugate-52 is the morally ambiguous character from “The Subjugate” and acts as a Hannibal Lecter-esque foil to Salvi Brentt’s Clarice. Their odd relationship is extremely compelling and while it doesn’t get much ‘screen-time’ in this particular book, it is clear that Bridgeman has an endgame in mind with these characters. The final chapters offer some interesting hints are what the third book might revolve around, as Bridgeman leaves enough unanswered questions from the first two books to tantalize fans.
As much as I enjoyed the undercover cop aspect of the novel, the book hit its stride in the final act as some shocking twists changed the direction of the series permanently. I devoured that last third of the novel in one sitting and was unable to sleep until I finished the book – and even then, needed a half hour to ‘decompress’. The ending is so bleak and downbeat that it reminded me of The Empire Strikes Back – a deliciously nihilistic ending that leaves the reader in anticipation for the next part of the series. Bridgeman puts her characters through some serious trauma, and because she does such a brilliant job at establishing them as likeable protagonists, it felt like an actual punch to the gut when the full extent of the changes were made clear. It was a pitch-perfect execution of a plot twist and just validates the accolades that Bridgeman has received for her writing.
“The Sensation” is a simply incredible sequel that does what all good sequels should do and improves upon the original in almost every way. After establishing the characters and world in the first book, the stakes are raised and the safety is off in the second, and who knows what awaits us in the third. “The Subjugate” worked as a stunning stand-alone novel, but with this sophomore effort, Bridgeman has created a brilliant and immensely engaging series. I enjoyed this novel so much that I have to bestow the highest compliment I can think of for a writer: she inspires me to want to write myself. And with that, all that is left is to award the inevitable perfect ‘five-star’ score and implore you to check out both books, if you haven’t already.
Score – ★★★★★
The Sensation is available as an eBook from Amazon Kindle, or collected in paperback format on Amazon and all good bookstores. It can also be purchased directly from the publisher, Angry Robot Books, at their website.