January 13th, 2013


by Rachel Cohn

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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 under-current of discontent among Demesne’s worker clones. She knows she is soulless and cannot feel and should not care–so why are overpowering sensations cloud-ing 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 happi-ness 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.
The first in a dazzlingly original science fiction series from best-selling author Rachel Cohn, “Beta “is a haunting, unforgettable story of courage and love in a cor-rupted world. Praise for Beta “A terrific premise that is equally well executed…Readers can only hope [the sequel] will be as thrilling as this series kickoff.”–Los Angles Times


“I do not wish, I serve” are very dangerous words, especially when uttered by a seemingly soulless clone. These words are too objectifying, too subordinating, too slimy. I don’t like them at all. And to write a whole book based on them? Controversial. Wonderful, if pulled off well. Otherwise, let’s just say… not. For many reasons, Beta was not.

Its first problem is the world building. In order for me to be satisfied in this department, Rachel Cohn would have needed to give her readers just  the right amount of history coupled with the just the right amount of description. Unfortunately, she was lacking in the former and much too ample in the latter. Apparently Demesne, the island for the elite on which Beta takes place, was formed after the Water Wars. The Water Wars being…? I couldn’t tell you for sure, and I don’t think that Cohn could either. And then there’s the descriptions. Look, Miss Cohn, we know that Demesne is beautiful. We get that. You don’t need to use you extensive imagery skills on every other page to repeat it to us. This isn’t The Lord of the Rings, and I’m not captivated enough to put up with that.

Next you have Beta‘s characters. Most of these fell flat, which would be understandable if the novel was narrated by a heartless clone (which it is so obviously not). Greer, Dementia, Tahir– they were all the same to me. Elysia never dug below the surface here, and the characters never shed their stereotypical shells.

I guess this brings me to the romance, if you can call it that. I, for one, don’t call a one- dimensional relationship based on mutual hawtness romance. I call it lust. And possibly stupidity. Moreover, have I mentioned how sleazy our little soulless clone is? For someone who’s only been alive for a few months, she’s certainly quite the expert on toying with teenage boys. I mean, cheating on your boyfriend doesn’t just come naturally. Or respectably. I’ll give you a sneak peak of this wondrous example of insta-love:

I stare at his full lips. They are so luscious, so close. I could touch them, if I dared. This beautiful male teen is so much better than the underwater manly apparition with a perfectly toned torso.

Is it wrong that my Diet Coke just came up through my nose?

Another aspect of Beta that could definitely have been improved is its ghastly undertone. Use of drugs is one thing. Recreational abuse of them is something else entirely.  Again, if this had been well pulled of by the author, I would have approved. In Beta, however, illegal drugs are portrayed as a tool that awakens their users. Dear Rachel Cohn, I’m sorry if you missed the memo, but just saying no is actually a thing now.

I’m not going to go into details about the rape scene. Suffice it to say that my residual feelings on the subject lead me to think that the author only incorporated this event into Beta in order to force a reaction out of her readers. Was it called for? No. Does it support the involved characters’ personalities? No. But it does add an even darker undercurrent to an already touchy subject. Because horror is horror, who cares if it’s artificial, right?

Despite all of my issues, my kudos go to Cohn for keeping me intrigued. If nothing else, Beta is a page turner, and I must say that I devoured it in a matter of days.

She also pulled off the ending to a tee. Nothing says ‘read the sequel’ like a cliffhanger so huge that it left me with no word on my lips but “woah” for the next few hours. And it wasn’t even a passionate “woah!”. It was just a vacant, I-can’t-believe-anyone-would-do-this-to-me, OMG-I’m-still-in-shock type”woah”. As you may imagine, it wasn’t very pretty.

Beta had an incredible amount of potential; my hopes here were so high.  It’s too bad that it could never live up to its premise. I recommend this one to you if you enjoy superficial romances, superficial horror, and imagery that just keeps on giving. 2/5 stars.


I’ll keep you posted,

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