Elysia is created in a laboratory, born as a sixteen-year-old girl, an empty vessel with no life experience to draw from. She is a Beta, an experimental model of a teenage clone. She was replicated from another teenage girl, who had to die in order for Elysia to exist.
Elysia's purpose is to serve the inhabitants of Demesne, an island paradise for the wealthiest people on earth. Everything about Demesne is bioengineered for perfection. Even the air induces a strange, euphoric high, which only the island's workers-soulless clones like Elysia-are immune to.
At first, Elysia's life is idyllic and pampered. But she soon sees that Demesne's human residents, who should want for nothing, yearn. But for what, exactly? She also comes to realize that beneath the island's flawless exterior, there is an undercurrent of discontent among Demesne's worker clones. She knows she is soulless and cannot feel and should not care-so why are overpowering sensations clouding Elysia's mind?
If anyone discovers that Elysia isn't the unfeeling clone she must pretend to be, she will suffer a fate too terrible to imagine. When her one chance at happiness is ripped away with breathtaking cruelty, emotions she's always had but never understood are unleashed. As rage, terror, and desire threaten to overwhelm her, Elysia must find the will to survive.
You know when a book is so bad, and/or boring that you just don't care about anyone in it? Yah, that. Seriously. Told from Elysia's perspective, the narrative is dry and often completely monotone, even when she starts to have feelings about everything around her. Scared, turned on, intrigued, mad, it all comes across in the same bland way, it made it impossible for me to get on board with Elysia's issues.
Unfortunately all the characters fall into a pattern very early on and never break the mold. The humans are almost all unequivocally calculating, evil and completely self serving. The clones are bland and uninteresting, even the ones who are revolting. This left me with nobody to cheer for, not one person who had a case of morals, not one person who had some sort of emotive response to anything going on around them. It was monotonous at best and off putting at worst.
Even stranger was the level of sexuality to the story. One of the many aspects of the clone ownership is the use of them as sexual objects, and Cohn is very open and descriptive of it. But she also shows sex amongst the clones as well as talks about it as it concerns the islands rather promiscuous teens. I'm no prude but it seemed excessive in it's description and frequency as it concerned the story, and would make me seriously consider the age range I would recommend read the story to (which, it's bad anyhow, so no recommendations, but if there had been some redeeming aspect, the sex would have given me strong second thoughts).
Obviously sexual abuse, of any kind, is hard to write about in a way that makes and impact but isn't exploitive, and to be fair Cohn is trying to show sexual abuse of the clones. The teens, on the other hand, just seem to be acting out every Paris Hilton story you've ever read about or seen on reality tv. If Cohn had taken more time to delve into these kids screwed up backgrounds or shown some remorse or struggle it would have gone a long way to round them out and make them more believable and worthy of my sympathy. In the end though, they were just as disgusting, screwed up and self-involved as their parents.
A totally unsatisfactory read where even the odd twists thrown out as a teaser to book the second, by the end, were not enough to interest me in reading another word of this series.
Beta, by Rachel Cohn
Published by Hyperion, October 16th, 2012
My copy obtained at the BEA