[Book Review] Cipher

Cipher / S. E. Bennett (Powell's Books)

Cipher Omega is brilliant, but her curiosity, dyslexia, and ability to experience the full range of human emotions, including anger and aggression, mark her as a failure among the community of clones she lives within.  Extraordinary by any other standard, she alone dreams of life above, pictured only through the limited feeds shown to the residents of the Basement, the world that benefits from the technology and scientific advances developed by the docile but brilliant clones.

Then one day the feeds are hacked, showing a masked man talking about the lies of the government instead of the happy families and green fields, followed by the literal explosion of the only world Cipher has ever known.

She wakes up in a hospital, reeling from shock and agoraphobia, suddenly famous as the only survivor of community that no one new existed.  The world that she has arrived in is nothing like what she was shown, and she doesn't know this world's rules.  People look at her and see a sheltered young girl or a cloned tool to be owned and used, failing to recognize the intelligence and determination she possesses.

Upsetting norms and challenging standards, Cipher finds herself embroiled in a conflicts between factions in power and between the powerful and the disenfranchised.  Simply by existing she causes conflict in the system, and by action they increase dramatically.  Not only that but for the first time she begins to grow emotionally and as a person, in a world where aggression is expected not bred away, and forming family bonds with the friends she has chosen.


The story has good pacing and character growth, exploring internal and external conflicts as Cipher goes from a reject to the most dangerous girl in the world.  The technology is well integrated into the narration, using exposition only as necessary and without fancy labels simply to show that the level of technology is higher than now.  Minimal romance, existing more as part of emotional growth than a driving plot point and the unfamiliarity of the environment that Cipher now inhabits.  The ending is written in such a way that a sequel would be unsurprising, but the story stands without requiring one.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

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