When Theo discovers the father he thought died when he was a baby is still alive, he's determined to find him. The clues lead him to the lonely Rachel, who has problems of her own, including parents who compare her unfavourably to her long-dead sister. But when Rachel and Theo are attacked by men from RAGE - the Righteous Army against Genetic Engineering - at Rachel's school disco, they are rescued by strangers and taken to meet a mysterious figure. There, they both make some startling discoveries about their identities, which will affect their past, present, and future in dramatic and life-altering ways...
Clones Rachel and Theo now live thousands of miles apart. They keep in touch, but things just aren't the same. When Rachel discovers that evil scientist Elijah is still working in secret for a section of the government and about to murder Daniel, she sets out to rescue the little boy, but her plans backfire with disastrous consequences. Across the Atlantic, Theo becomes suspicious when Rachel misses their weekly internet chat. He discovers a report online saying she's killed herself and travels to Scotland to find her, certain that she has been kidnapped. A clue leads him to Elijah's mysterious clinic, where the sinister Aphrodite Experiment is underway. But what is Elijah really planning? Why does he need to track Rachel down so badly? And will Rachel and Theo be able to pay the ultimate ransom that he demands?
N.B. Before you read on please be aware that this review may contain spoilers of Blood Ties.
We have had Sophie McKenzie's Blood Ties in the school library for some time, but I just hadn't ever got around to reading it. Then a while ago I received a copy through the post along with a copy of the newly released sequel, Blood Ransom, giving me the rare opportunity to read a book and its sequel back-to-back.
Blood Ties is the story of two 'almost' ordinary teenagers, Theo and Rachel. I say 'almost' because right from the start we are encouraged to ask questions: Why is Theo going to an expensive private school when his mother is a single parent? Why does he have a bodyguard? Why do Rachel's parents constantly compare her with her long-dead sister? These questions, and the way the opening chapters bring them to the forefront of our minds, are the perfect set-up for what is a very fast-paced and well plotted modern thriller for Young Adults, a thriller that will also prompt its readers to think about the issues of genetic experimentation and cloning.
Theo and Rachel are both very well written characters: Rachel has very low self-esteem, few friends, and is a constant target for the bullies at her school; Theo is pretty much the opposite in nearly every way. Very early on in the story Theo discovers that his mother has been lying to him all of his life and his father is actually alive and in hiding, and we see another part of Theo's personality: he is very stubborn and single-minded, personality traits that soon sees him embroiled in a fight/flight for his life, dragging his new 'friend' Rachel with him. The pace of the story then ratchets up a few gears as the story sees the pair pursued by enemies on all sides, not knowing who they should trust. On the one side are the fanatical members of the Righteous Army against Genetic Engineering (RAGE), who for some reason are trying to kill Theo, and on the other side the forces of Elijah, a scientist whose forces rescue the pair from certain death..... but is it a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire?
The story is narrated in the first person by both Theo and Rachel; this is a storytelling device that I do not always like but in this case it works very well, with the pair narrating alternate chapters, without variation. This means that we really get to see how both of these very different personalities a feeling and developing as the story progresses; this is especially important as far as Rachel is concerned as we see her change from an insecure, self-loathing girl into a far more confident character. This is very much a story about the self-discovery of the two main characters as they slowly discover their roots and the connection they have between them and the narrative shows their internal struggles to come to terms with the information they both discover. Their thoughts of these revelations will also encourage readers to raise similar questions about their own lives, and exactly what it is that makes someone human and an individual. The alternating narrative also allows us to follow the stories of both characters as they are separated and their paths diverge meaning that super-fast pace of the story is maintained throughout.
I loved Blood Ties and had trouble putting it down, and so on finishing it it was with a great deal of anticipation that I immediately picked up the sequel, Blood Ransom. And then a few chapters in I very nearly put it back down again as the first few chapters seemed to be lacking many of the elements of the previous book that I had loved so much. However, I put that down to the fact that many sequels require a small degree of recap (this book is after all released two years after its predecessors) and fortunately I persevered. I say fortunately as they soon we are thrown back into the fray as they discover that the evil Elijah is alive, well and still working on his immoral genetic experiments.
I am not going to go into much detail about the sequel for fear of creating too many spoilers for Blood Ties. What I will say is that in Blood Ransom we see Rachel's character develop even further; despite the alternating narrative in Blood Ties, and the vastly improved improvement in Rachel's self-esteem, that first book was still very much Theo's story, and his search to discover the secrets of his birth and the identity of his father. Yet again we are treated to the exciting alternating of the narrative between the two main characters, and yet again this is used to keep the tension levels at an almost unbearable level, especially as we often know what danger is heading towards a particular character before they do.
In this pair of books Ms McKenzie had skilfully married thought-provoking contemporary moral themes with the kind of exciting, fast-paced plot that is needed to keep reluctant readers turning the pages. The issue of genetic engineering, and the devotion and extremist actions it can engender in the various concerned parties is well worked into the story, and never feels overtly moralistic, enabling readers to make their own decisions about these issues without ever feeling they have been preached to.