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The Final Evolution (Avery Cates) by Jeff Somers
Review by Benjamin Wald
Orbit Mass Market Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780316069847
Date: 01 July 2011 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Ever since he first appeared in The Electric Church, Avery Cates has been one of the most fascinating and unusual characters in modern SF. Now, in The Final Evolution, his adventures finally come to a close with the mix of violence, black comedy, and bleakness that has become his trademark. This novel sticks fairly closely to the formula of the previous four Avery Cates novels, and doesn't really push the boundaries all that much, but it does preserve the strengths of the previous novels and provides one of the most gripping reads I have had in a long time. This is a fitting end to a highly entertaining series.

The story picks up where the last book, The Terminal State, ended. The writing presumes a familiarity with the previous novels, and the parade of characters from previous novels will probably throw off new readers. Each of the previous novels has shown the world become progressively more decrepit, and as The Final Evolution begins civilization has been almost completely destroyed, replaced by small communities run by warlords who used to be police chiefs or army officers.

The plot follows Avery Cates, an assassin for hire, as he strives to get his revenge on Cannic Orel, the most famous and deadly killer on the planet. However, he soon learns that Orel may hold the key to staving off the end of the human race itself, and he will be forced to decide between vengeance and saving the world. With Avery, the choice is far from obvious.

The main strength of this, as of previous, novels is the narrative voice. Avery Cates is the first person narrator of the story, and he is a remarkably compelling character. He combines the world-weary cynicism of a noir detective with a self-deprecating sense of humor, and mixes this with an almost psychopathic violence that somehow combines with a streak of conscience that actually makes him a substantially better person than most of those around him. This, combined with the action and violence filled plot, makes for a book you won't be able to put down. However, unlike most page-turners, this novel has a deep streak of pessimism that is lightened but not undercut by the use of humor. This pessimism is centered on human nature, and the casual way that we use one another. Even those who seek to surpass humanity, whether through robotic bodies, computerized minds, or psychic powers, display the same lust for power and casual disregard for others. Cates himself, as an assassin and criminal, is guilty of some of the same crimes, but his self-awareness and guilt set him apart from the power mongers around him. This aspect of the novel allows it to remain in the mind longer than the usual best-seller.

The plot and setting are both fairly familiar. The plot is somewhat pulpy, with lots of violence and hardship, although the author's willingness to kill off secondary characters sets it apart to some extent. The setting is a somewhat generic future, believable enough to support the novel but not the main attraction. For fans of the series, this is what you have come to expect of an Avery Cates novel, and provides a fitting conclusion to his story. For newcomers to the series, it would be a good idea to go back and start at the beginning; you can expect an entertaining, fast-paced read with a bit more thoughtfulness and tragedy behind the violence than you might expect.

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