Coil by Ren Warom

June 13, 2019

Bone Adams is a legend, the best mortician in the Spires, and a man without modification in a world where body mods define humanity. When a new killer begins leaving bodies stripped of mods but twisted and bent into grotesque pieces of art, City Officer Stark tasks Bone to unravel the clues, few though they may be.

As more victims are discovered, Bone and Stark get drawn deeper into a world where pain and personal statement blend and blur, and finally end up hunting for a semi-mythical, man-machine named Burneo deep within the labyrinth of the sewers.

But things aren’t what they seem, and while searching for Burneo, Bone and Stark discover a hidden lab full of evidence of horrific abuses of science and experimentation. Meanwhile, the killer is still on the loose, and, as Stark becomes more and more obsessed with the case, Bone is forced to a shattering realization. Everything is connected, the killings, the gang activity, the labs, and his own past, and unless he can figure out how, he’s not going to survive.

To my mind, the best detectives are the ones that are flawed. Their only redeeming quality is their masterful ability to do their job. Bone Adams falls squarely into this category. There are moments that feel like Bone is teetering on the very edge of insanity. Next to no sleep and too much booze is undoubtedly taking their toll, but there is more to it than that. The further Bone digs into the murders the more events spiral out of control, and at times his life feels like a crazed fever dream. There are an increasing number of gaps in his memory, and Bone knows he has to confront the serial killer or he’ll end up dead himself. On top of all the mental trauma, Bone also has the singular honour of being the only person in the city without any form of adaptation. This casts him in the role of outsider, viewed by many as an object of curiosity.

The other person investigating the murders is an officer called Stark. Where Bone is compelled to understand the nature of the crimes, Stark is steadfastly focussed on getting the killer off the city streets. Once again, the author’s attention to strong characterisation pays dividends. Stark struck me as the kind of investigator who doesn’t mess around. He has likely thrown his badge across a table in disgust at his boss on more than one occasion. You know the type, bound (and damned) by a sense of personal responsibility to see a case through to the bitter end. Sure, there will be consequences due to his actions, but justice needs to be done. He’ll deal with the fallout later.

Between the two of them, Bone and Stark make quite the pair. Their respective strengths and weaknesses complement one another. There might even be a bit of grudging respect in there too.

There is visual flair to Coil that I really enjoyed, it feels almost cinematic. The city is as much a character in this story as everyone else. It got me thinking about how a writer uses locations to expand add depth to a story. When you watch something like Blade Runner, for example, you can see where Ridley Scott scatters brief glimpses of his dark dystopia hidden under a shiny neon wrapper. Future Los Angeles appears like a bustling metropolis when you first see it but as the narrative unfolds you start to see signs of the rot hidden in plain sight. The weather is always terrible and most of the action takes place at night or in dimly lit, shadowy rooms. Ren Warom achieves the same thing here with her writing. At first glance everything about the Spires appears to be about frenetic hedonistic excess but there is something much darker bubbling just under the surface. There is the expected gang violence and crime is rife, but a far more insidious conspiracy is unfurling. Society in the Spires is collapsing in on itself by degrees. Only Bone and Stark have a chance of stopping it.

I would offer a word of warning at this point. Coil is not for the faint of heart. The author delights in some genuinely visceral body horror. In a city where modifications of the flesh are the norm it takes a certain kind of crazy to really push the boundaries. There are moments that reminded me of Clive Barker’s early work, you know hooks, body-parts and whatnot. Personally, I thought it was great. Exploring the limits of transhumanism has the potential to make us far better than we are now but it could also make us far, far worse.

Coil by Ren Warom blends together multiple genres effortlessly to create something unique. This novel is a glorious melting pot of science fiction, techno-punk, gangland crime and detective noir. Add in a liberal dash of horror and you are on to a winner. If you are looking for no holds barred dark and gritty science fiction, then look no further. Gripping and more than a little addictive I loved it right to the depths of my dark heart.

My musical recommendation to accompany Coil is an album called Blackstar by Celldweller. I was looking for some tunes that mixed together the industrial and electronic to capture the futuristic griminess of the Spires. I think this album does the trick, plenty of crunchy guitars and hardcore synth goodness to enjoy. With track titles like A Dystopian Utopia and The Undercity it feels like this album and this book were made for one another.

Coil is published by Apex Book Company and is available from 18 June.

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