Hammer & Crucible, from seasoned author Cameron Cooper, is a novel with a unique twist in the character line-up: instead of a typical sci-fi hero, we follow Danny Andela, a foul-mouthed grandmother in the final weeks of her life. This atypical protagonist was refreshing, offering a perspective in the genre that was new to me.
The book starts off promisingly, setting up a slowly unfolding mystery centered around the death of Danny's son. As a frail, elderly woman doggedly seeking the truth, she's a sympathetic character with captivating motivations. In Cooper's fictional future, almost everyone undergoes an anti-aging therapy called rejuvenation—few besides Danny choose otherwise. She surprises people everywhere she goes because of her choice. Add in her wise cracking attitude, and the book is great fun to read.
Unfortunately, the promising setup goes astray as Danny is forced to undergo rejuvenation early in the story to continue her hunt. The sudden twist strips her of her impending mortality, and thus her most sympathetic and unique trait. The subsequent introduction of other threats to replace the original ticking time bomb felt forced, an attempt to reinstate tension into the plot. It's a shame as the elderly protagonist was a great hook, but the narrative undermined what I took to be the entire premise of the story.
Another drawback was the unclear plot development. Withholding details about certain periods in the past—the Crazy Years—was likely intended to spur readers' curiosity, but unfortunately, it resulted in confusion instead. Some of the characters' reasoning for the actions they took didn't make sense to me either.
Despite that, there's still a lot that the author does right. The characters' personalities and overall motivations are well-established, and Cooper's dialogue provides an excellent example of trusting readers to pick things up without too much exposition. This quality carries over to the worldbuilding as well. Cooper doesn't over-indulge in detailed descriptions, leaving us to piece together the world and its workings, an approach which I personally prefer.
The picture I'm left with in my mind is a deep, well-realized world brimming with cool far-future ideas. So while I didn't particularly enjoy where the author chose to take the plot, I appreciate the thought and effort put into the world and how its unique aspects affect the story. If you're a sci-fi enthusiast looking for rich ideas, you can find much to appreciate in Hammer & Crucible. Just don't get overly attached to the grandmotherly qualities of the protagonist, as I did.
My Score: 6 / 10
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