Title: The Half Life of Valery K (2022)
Author: Natasha Pulley
A former nuclear scientist, imprisoned in a Siberian gulag, is transferred to a mysterious city where unknown levels of radiation are currently bombarding the unaware populace. It’s not the most uplifting of scenarios, but Pulley tackles a dour topic with verve and a light touch.
The science-heavy narrative is very accessible and compelling and I was sucked into the “all is not as it seems” story. Valery, our main character, peels back the layers and layers of the mystery surrounding City 40 to reveal the conspiracy at its core. Once that’s done, though, the narrative loses momentum, especially with the frequent flashbacks threaded throughout the book. This, plus a too tidy ending, kept this novel from reaching higher heights, but it was a compelling read nonetheless.
Whether or not this qualifies as speculative fiction is debatable, as it hews closer to historical fiction than anything in the SFF realm, but the lines of genre demarcation are often blurry, and who really cares? This is a solid book and I think SFF fans and non-SFF fans would like it all the same.