Review: The Hierarchies by Ros Anderson (2021)

Blurb

Your Husband is the reason for your existence. You are here to serve him. You must not harm your Husband. Nor may you harm any human. Sylv.ie is a synthetic woman. A fully sentient robot, designed to cater to her Husband’s every whim. She lives alone on the top floor of his luxurious home, her existence barely tolerated by his human wife and concealed from their child. Between her Husband’s visits, deeply curious about the world beyond her room, Sylv.ie watches the family in the garden–hears them laugh, cry, and argue. Longing to experience more of life, she confides her hopes and fears only to her diary. But are such thoughts allowed? And if not, what might the punishment be?

As Sylv.ie learns more about the world and becomes more aware of her place within it, something shifts inside her. Is she malfunctioning, as her Husband thinks, or coming into her own? As their interactions become increasingly fraught, she fears he might send her back to the factory for reprogramming. If that happens, her hidden diary could be her only link to everything that came before. And the only clue that she is in grave danger. Set in a recognizable near future and laced with dark, sly humor, Ros Anderson’s deeply observant debut novel is less about the fear of new technology than about humans’ age-old talent for exploitation. In a world where there are now two classes of women–“born” and “created”–the growing friction between them may have far-reaching consequences no one could have predicted.

Review

I’d seen a few blogger friends posting about this book, and I am a big fan of the work that Dead Ink publishes (Exit Management by Naomi Booth was my book of the year last year), so I treated myself to a copy from new indie bookshop Bearded Badger Books (and I may have chucked in one of their fabulous tote bags too, because, you know, I love a tote).

The premise is, admittedly, somewhat familiar – I read the blurb to my husband and he said, “Right, so it’s like that TV show Humans?” but remember, folks, he is a non-reader who doesn’t understand that even a familiar concept can make a fantastic story if done well, so don’t let that put you off. Yes, okay, sex robot gains sentience and wants more from life may be something we’ve seen before, but trust me, the way that this book is written makes it an incredible, fresh, original read.

The success of the story hinges on the brilliance of of Sylv.ie as a character. The first person narration and the diary-style episodes keep us immersed in her point of view, learning and understanding more about her situation only as she does. It is also a really good mix of dramatic events and more ruminative sections on really quite deep questions of what it means to be human or not, to have consciousness and free will in varying degrees – it’s fascinating. But it’s also a funny book, full of wicked humour and sharp observations. One of the joys of reading a story from a non-human point of the view is the mirror it holds up to the ridiculousness of so much of human behaviour, and Sylv.ie’s puzzlement at our foibles is wonderfully depicted.

I wasn’t expecting to be so moved by this book, but I got so caught up in Sylv.ie’s story. The twists and turns of her story are much less predictable than the premise suggests, and there are plenty of surprising, even shocking, moments. The ending is just right (I shall say no more about it for fear of spoilers!) and I finished the book feeling satisfied in that lovely way that the very best stories leave you feeling.

As dystopian fiction teeters ever closer to reality, books like The Hierarchies take on a new and frightening resonance, and I think this heightens the reading experience. It helps that Ros Anderson writes beautifully – there are many phrases and sentences that will stay with me from this book. It’s a story that leaves a lasting impression, and I highly recommend it.

The Hierarchies by Ros Anderson is published by Dead Ink and is available to purchase here.

3 thoughts on “Review: The Hierarchies by Ros Anderson (2021)

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