"Hamartia" by Raquel Rich

No comments
Hamartia (ham-ar-TEE-uh), n., tragic flaw, or spirit which moves a character to err, resulting in fear and pity in the part of an audience. In reference to this book, I do prefer, however, Joseph Brody’s assertion that it is a morally neutral term, meaning simply to fall short of an objective, or simply to miss the mark. In Raquel Rich’s novel, the second sense fits much more closely.

Rich’s novel deals with a future in which souls can be traced from individual to individual, and are allotted a finite number of reincarnations. When a soul ages to the point it can no longer reincarnate, the person which the soul occupies, no matter how physically old, dies. Grace, the lead character in Hamartia, wants desperately to save her son’s life, so she volunteers to leave her time in a future plagued by an iatrogenic Holocaust, travel back to the early 2000s to find her “soul mate,” and murder him in such a way that his soul can be harvested.

Within this framework, it’s hard to pin down all the moving parts. Grace time-travels with her onetime best friend, with whom she is forcibly re-allied. She carries a syringe with a fuzzily defined potion and homing chip. She keeps secrets from her fellow traveler, who in turn keeps secrets from her. They engage in old-fashioned skulduggery: are followed, threatened, nearly killed. Until they become enemies again.

This activity, energetic and sometimes frenetic, needs a solid foundation, so we know if we’re approaching the ends we want, or slipping away from them. Unfortunately, the author keeps us in the dark about what really is the best outcome at each step. The plot repeatedly twists and turns, certainly, but Grace and her friend Kay never quite gain enough of the reader’s sympathy to make it matter.

The plot is quick-paced, that’s for sure. The events occurring in the characters’ pasts - the early 2000s - form the bulk of the book, and the author takes shots at society’s wastefulness, among other obvious shortcomings. But otherwise, the faults weigh this novel down. We get a hurried, unclear grounding in the issues which necessitate the quest; the quest itself lacks focus; I found many of the characters confusing and poorly drawn. I’m sure the author designed fair amount of uncertainty. But where a point needs to be clear - like real objectives and real consequences - we encounter too often a lack of clarity.

I compliment the author’s wide-ranging vision; clearly this construct has potentialities galore. But the author adds too many facets to the story, which only diffuses and confuses the outcomes. There’s not enough energy behind any single one of them to truly drive the narrative to a rewarding conclusion.