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Passion Play is a chilling dystopian thriller
September 4, 2017
By Sean Stewart
Sci Fi & Fantasy
Pub Date 14 Jun 2017
When you consider the current political environment, the rerelease of Passion Play makes all the more sense. In this dystopian version of the US, the government is controlled by ultra conservatives who force their version of Christian Fundamentalism on the public. Vigilantes are prevalent and “sins” are violently punished. Diane Fletcher is an investigator, an empath whose abilities allow her to solve crimes through understanding the nature of the perpetrator. When Jonathan Mask, a Fundamentalist Icon and celebrity is killed, Diane is brought in to determine whether the situation was an accident or murder. The case is a difficult one, made more so by Mask’s nature. He was a celebrity, the voice of fundamentalism, but as Diane discovers he was also far more than that.
Passion Play questions the nature of judgment and justice. The society is supposedly Christian, but it is extremely violent and unforgiving. Diane is able to do her job because of her empathy, but at the same time her empathy is a disability, something that sets her apart. On the opposite side is Mask, whose philosophy of acting was that it doesn't matter if the nature of the character is felt or understood or lived by the actor (opposing method) so long as the characteristics are communicated to the public. Appearances matter rather than substance. Passion Play is not the easiest novel to read. At times it meanders, and its depiction of Diane’s empathy isn't always straightforward. Passion Play is dark and more than a little disturbing, in part because it is believable -especially now. It has flaws, but it is definitely powerful.
4 / 5
I received a copy of Passion Play from the publisher and Netgalley.com in exchange for an honest review.
"Dark and nastily believable ... Sean Stewart [is] a talent to watch." — William Gibson
"A fine novel, in the grand tradition of the SF thriller … a very exciting debut." — Kim Stanley Robinson
"One of the year's best new science fiction books." — Edmonton Journal
America has been transformed by the Redemption Presidency, as the nation falls under the rule of Christian fundamentalists. While the country's great cities fall into decay, vigilantes are permitted to murder according to Biblical mandates. Adulterers are killed by stoning, and bounty hunters are encouraged to deliver criminals to the police for televised executions. Bounty hunter Diane Fletcher — a "shaper" whose empathetic powers allow her to tap into the emotions of others — investigates the bizarre death of Jonathan Mask, a celebrated actor whose electrocuted corpse was found dressed in a demon costume. But even a shaper's gifts might not be enough to navigate the shaky ground that lies between justice and vengeance.