Duplicity by N.K. Traver
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Release date: March 17 2015
Genre: Young adult science fiction
Source: Finished copy from publisher
The nitty-gritty: A mind-bending, The Matrix-like story that teens, especially boys, are going to love.
I knew Duplicity was about a teen computer hacker, but I didn’t realize it was going to enter the mind-bending territory of The Matrix. This book surprised me, in a good way, and even if the details of Brandon’s journeys back and forth through the mirror world didn’t always make sense, I had a blast reading about them. Duplicity also had an awesome gender-bending feel to it with one of the characters, and I’ll talk more about that later. Overall, Traver’s story was fast-paced and funny, and had the unexpected bonus of some well-developed characters and relationships.
Brandon is a high-school senior with a bad boy persona (tattoos and piercings galore) and a highly developed skill as a computer hacker. He spends his days avoiding his workaholic parents who barely have time for him, and instead hacks into secure accounts and steals credit card numbers, which he sells in order to fund his fetish for fast cars. But one day, Brandon sees his reflection in a mirror doing things it’s not supposed to be doing. Little by little, his reflection—which he names “Obran” or Other Brandon—begins to physically change his appearance. Obran removes his piercings one by one and even manages to rid him of his tattoos, all the while filling Brandon’s closet with unfamiliar preppy clothes.
As if this weren’t weird enough, one day Brandon blanks out and wakes up in a prison cell-like room, where a voice informs him that he has been incarcerated for computer hacking, and must serve out a twenty-year sentence as part of something called Project Duplicity. A computer entity named JENA now controls his every waking—and sleeping—moments, forcing him to work on computer codes. Brandon knows that Obran, his lookalike, has taken over his real life, and he’s desperate to get home. It will take all his computer hacking skills to break out of his prison and switch places with his computer generated double, before Obran ruins his life.
Duplicity is a fairly short novel with non-stop action, and I found myself lost in the story and loving the voice of Brandon. I loved the idea of Brandon, a skilled hacker, being integrated into a computer system himself, much like the ideas in The Matrix. The difference here is that every mirrored surface is a way to see into the parallel world, and even a doorway to get in if you’re smart enough. “Mind-bending” doesn’t even begin to describe what’s going on here. Between Brandon having to understand that he doesn’t have a physical body anymore, to controlling what his avatar looks like, Duplicity definitely kept me guessing!
My favorite parts of the story were those that take place between Brandon and his only friend inside Duplicity, a boy named Seb, who teaches him the ropes about how to survive his new life. Little by little, Seb and Brandon hatch a plan to escape Duplicity for good, but not before they learn how to trust one another. Seb comes across as a possibly gay character, who calls Brandon “Kathy” and “honey” and seems to be hitting on him. But Seb is the most nuanced and layered of all of Traver’s characters, and there’s much more to him than first meets the eye.
Traver uses the virtual reality idea to its fullest by dropping Brandon and Seb into computer games and forcing them to survive things like ravenous zombies. I did love these scenes, which really didn’t move the plot forward at all, but were fun to read and gave us more hilarious dialog between Seb and Brandon. Even though the back-and-forth between the mirrors sometimes made my head hurt, I eventually just learned to roll with it, even if I didn’t always understand the mechanics.
In the “outside” world, Brandon has a sort-of girlfriend named Emma (“sort-of” because they are fighting when the story begins), and when Obran takes over his body, Emma seems to like the change he’s made from bad boy to upstanding preppy student. Of all the characters, I thought Emma was the weakest, simply because she never felt three-dimensional to me. She seems to exist solely for the purpose of giving Brandon a reason to get back his body, but I never really felt that he cared for her at all, at least until the end. Indeed, one of the points the author is making is that Brandon needs a kick in the pants to move beyond his self-centered life style, and having to spend time in Duplicity certainly turns him into a better person by the end of the book.
Brandon’s parents felt a bit “cookie-cutter” to me as well. They come across as the typical absentee parents that often appear in young adult fiction, working so many hours that they’re rarely present to interfere with the teen characters. When Brandon’s mother finally shows some concern for him, she’s convinced he’s doing drugs, which didn’t endear her to me at all. Because any teen with tattoos and piercings is doing drugs, right?
Aside from this, however, I really did enjoy Duplicity, and I’m especially happy that it will have a strong appeal for male readers, because we need more books like that, in my opinion!
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy!
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