Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date – 9 August 2018
Creative young adult fiction author Amy McCulloch returns with a fun and compelling techno-thriller that takes an incredible and entertaining look at the potential future of your favourite devices and combines them with a unique idea of how to make them even more user-friendly.
In the near future, the must-have technological device is the baku, your brand new best friend. Bakus combine all the features of your smart devices and internet connection with a constant companion in the form of a robotic animal that is customisable to your needs and price range. Low range bakus take the form of small creations like insects, while the most advanced baku are created to look like birds of prey or large land animals. Not only are bakus the most popular form of communication device, but in this day and age, even basic bakus are needed to fully experience day-to-day life.
Lacey Chu has big dreams of working for Moncha Corp, the company which designs and creates the baku, as well as working for her idol, Moncha’s founder, Monica Chan. However, the only way to achieve that dream is to get accepted into the exclusive Profectus Academy, the elite tech school whose graduates become the designers, coders and creators of the next generation of baku. When Lacey is rejected from the academy and can no longer afford her dream baku, she is crushed. That is until she finds Jinx, a ruined cat baku that appears to have been abandoned at the bottom of a canyon. Bringing it home to fix, Lacey’s fortunes appear to immediately turn around when her application for the Profectus Academy is suddenly accepted and Jinx is listed as the advanced baku she is required to have for classes.
Arriving in the academy, she finds it a very different place than she imagined. The students and faculty are obsessed with Baku Battles, the academy-sponsored fights between bakus that help determine a student’s rank and prestige in the academy. Finding herself drafted onto a Baku Battle team, Lacey starts to learn all about the inner workings of the baku. The more she learns, the more she begins to realise that something is very different about Jinx. Jinx is not the usual mindless machine; Jinx can think for himself, has his own personality and is even starting to communicate with Lacey. As Jinx begins to mess with parts of Lacey’s life, she begins to fully comprehend the implications of Jinx’s existence. What shadowy secret lies at the heart of Moncha, and will Lacey and her friends be able to save Jinx from them?
Amy McCulloch is a well-established young adult fiction author who has written a number of books since her 2013 debut. McCulloch also writes under the name Amy Alward and mostly focuses on young adult fantasy novels as part of her Potion and The Knots Sequence series. Jinxed is her first foray into the science fiction genre and represents an exciting techno-thriller that explores an intriguing piece of future technology and the exciting adventure that happens around it.
The overall story of Jinxed is an excellent mixture of science fiction, thriller and teen drama elements, all set within a captivating academy background. As a result, throughout the book, there is a ton for the reader to enjoy as they are introduced to the technology around the baku and see the narrator investigate a conspiracy centred around the creation of Jinx, all while dealing with the highs and lows of school life. It is a fun combination of different story elements that works towards a great overall narrative. I was able to work out what one of the twists was going to be quite early in the book, but it didn’t really impact my enjoyment of the story. There are some great moments throughout, as well as a surprising ending that makes me very curious to read any sequels that McCulloch brings out.
The baku are an essential part of this story and are a really interesting element that McCulloch has chosen to use. Many science fiction and technology based authors are currently attempting to predict what the next big piece of technology will be in the world, with many of them focusing on what the next ground-breaking piece of communications technology will be. While many of these suggestions seem quite plausible and seem to support the current trends in technology, this is the first book I’ve seen that suggests combining a person’s smart device with a robotic pet. The narrator suggests that the fiction justification for the creation of the baku was to give people a companion that is both helpful and which also limits their dependencies and addictions to mobile phones and smart devices. It’s a rather fun concept and it is cool to see how McCulloch imagines how these creations would work.
The baku are broken down into various levels of sophistication, from the basic models which look like insects and can only do the most basic of tasks, to the ultra-sophisticated versions which come in the form of some very powerful creatures. It is also intriguing to see how many of the book’s various characters start to care for their bakus like they are real animals, and the bond that they form as a result, even if their bakus aren’t sentient. The bond that forms between Lacey and Jinx is fairly unique, however, as Jinx is an early form of artificial intelligence, and it is nice to see it develop through the course of the book as Lacey risks her life to help Jinx. There are a few great scenes which show Jinx trying to come to grips with his existence, whether he is helping other bakus, questioning how baku are made, or by attempting to exist among a group of real life cats. A truly intriguing postulation about future technologies, McCulloch has created a unique and fascinating idea that works well within this narrative.
Most of the action of this book is contained within fights between the bakus rather than between any of the human characters. This is mostly done in the Baku Battles tournament at the school, where several bakus fight each other in a free-for-all brawl. I love a good fictional tournament, and each of the bakus has various techniques. As a result, the fights within the book can become quite fun and energetic as eagle, boar, tiger, cat and frog bakus all fight in various ways. I also enjoyed the scoring concept that McCulloch came up with for this tournament, as the surviving team receives all the points, but their opponents can steal them if they can repair their team’s bakus sufficiently by the next day. This is an intriguing stipulation for a tournament which allows McCulloch to show off several scenes of the narrator doing advanced repair work. These tournament battles do a good job of moving the plot along and work into the books various elements very well, whether by giving the narrator access to certain locations to investigate secrets, or by bringing her closer to or further apart from other characters in the books, to allowing a closer examination of the workings and mindsets of the book’s technological elements.
Amy McCulloch’s latest book, Jinxed is a high-octane technological thriller that makes use of amazing science fiction elements to create an enthralling adventure. Aimed for a young adult audience, the lack of any substantial violence, except between the book’s distinctive robotic animals, makes this a perfect read for a wide range of younger readers. At the same time, the intriguing concept of future technology and its wide range of applications, including for high-stakes gladiatorial battles, makes it intriguing for an older readers. This is an absolutely fantastic book from McCulloch. I really enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes next.