Tuesday, October 7, 2014

"Cipher (The Shadow Ravens #1)" by Aileen Erin

I received this ebook for free via NetGalley, but in no way did it affect my literary taste buds. This critique is my honest opinion.

Book One of The Shadow Ravens Series

To Be Published: October 14th, 2014

If you're looking for hard sci-fi, this book probably won't be your cup of coffee. Cipher puts more emphasis on the romance side of things than its technological side- and more emphasis on genes and DNA than anything techie. For that reason, I was a bit disappointed: the cover suggested technology would be more than a little advanced. Instead, it's more ten years to the future (or at least that's how I see it) with dystopia as a side piece.

What this book offers instead is a look at relationships of the future: will we be more or less connected by technology? How will we live in the future- what will our dwellings look like? Will trust suffer in a world where identity is king?

The Plot:
Cipher (AKA Emma) is a hacker who has never been caught because of the precautions she takes with her work. Because she has a Red Helix in her DNA, she is hunted by government goons bent on killing her- Red Helixes wreak havoc on electronics and the electrical systems, and are considered largely dangerous. But when she doesn't run away after her latest hack, which caused her to fry most of the electrical systems nearby, will the mistake cost her her life?

Let me begin by saying YA isn't my favorite genre (and I had no clue when I picked this up it was YA- which the people of Goodreads currently shelve this book to be), but I can still enjoy a well-crafted story regardless of the age of protagonists. While I found the characters and storyline quite interesting, the world-building fell under my questionable category. It wasn't that the world-building wasn't there or wasn't unique in some way, it was that nothing was explained. I still have many questions left after reading this book, which normally would be a good thing. In this case, it caused major annoyance.

One thing I found very odd as a gamer myself was the gamer's lounge Cipher hangs out at, Marx's. The screen is super-big, but only up to 5 players can play on it. Five players? My brothers have both had original Xbox parties where seven of their buddies (eight total players) would play on two tiny television screens (as in, smaller than your average computer monitor tv screens) with no internet connection required. On a huge screen described in the book, I would expect up to ten players would be able to play, no problem. And it was especially weird given we now have MMOGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Games) that that was the limit of players. Why wouldn't they hook up with other gamers lounges to play online with them? If you're going to game, it's the more the merrier in my humble opinion, and with technology the way it is now, things will only get more immersive in the coming years.

I also had some issues with Cipher herself- she comes across as majorly naive, despite hacking for big bucks for (most likely to be) nefarious people. In Marx's, the bartender tells her to see "Crackhead" if she wants a new processor, and Cipher thinks she says "a crackhead". If you've been online as much as I have (which isn't that much), you see a lot of people calling themselves some pretty odd names- not to mention gamers with pretty odd names/tags. Crackhead wouldn't be a stretch as far as a nickname goes.

Overall, Cipher left me with more nagging questions than answers. What are the Voids, and how did they come to be? Will the other Helix colors have more screen time in future books? Why only five players on one screen? Although I have many questions, I did like the basic story Cipher tells, and it was a very quick read. If you're a fan of Young Adult books and light sci-fi with a lot of romance, you'll probably like this book more than I do.

Note: The book I received was a review copy and this is a pre-release critique, so I have no idea what changes might take place in the published novel.

Rating: 3 of 5 Stars for a good story that left me with a few too many questions.

Content: Ages 16+ for cursing (a few f-bombs), violence, and sexual innuendo (no sex scenes).

Page Count: 210 pages (according to Amazon)


  1. This book cover is gorgeous! Her tattoos are beautiful. I'm not really a gamer, but the synopsis sounds original and interesting. Even though you only gave it 3 stars, I might have to check it out, just for the originality of it! I hope you enjoy your next read more, and happy reading (:
    Morrighan @ Elysian Fields Reviews ( http://ufbooks.blogspot.com )

    1. I also loved the cover- that's why I impulse clicked on NetGalley.
      I think my main problem (other than my nitpicks) was nothing about the world/government was explained. In some books, I'm perfectly fine with that, but I kind of expected the ending to resolve a bit more than it did, even though this is a series. A lot of other people on GR rated it higher than I did, so it's probably just my personal preferences.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Morrighan!
      ~Litha Nelle


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