The single most obvious thing to say about The First, by Kipjo Ewers, is this: when you read it, you are reading a movie.
Seriously, I cannot think of even one written story more perfectly designed for translation into a feature film, or some other visual format, including its length, style, details, etc. Kipjo Ewers has written a movie here, people. This short novel is meant to be seen on the big screen. What’s more, I think it would be a pretty good movie.
The tale mostly follows the ordeals of Sophia Dennison, the world’s first certifiable superhuman. Having been framed for the murder of her husband, the story begins with her execution, which is immediately followed by her revival, wild rampage through the prison, and escape. Her body was altered somewhere along the way, such that, having returned from the dead, Sophia is faster and stronger than any normal human could ever be, with a perfect memory, and a body that adapts to counter almost anything that hurts it even once. About the only thing missing is laser beams coming out of her eyes. …at least, for the moment. 😉
With her memories restored, and her body now the epitome of “what doesn’t kill you, makes you much, much stronger,” Sophia goes hunting for her husband’s murderers. It’s a simple quest for revenge: everyone responsible for his death is a dead person walking. That’s not so common, as I recall, for the central protagonist to have vengeance as their motivation. I think the last time I saw that was in Kill Bill, also starring a hot, blonde woman as a one-woman army.
Huh, one might almost think that a woman’s wrath was something best avoided. 😉
While Sophia is going around the country in search of her enemies, her enemies are searching for her. And so are the authorities. Special Agent Mark Armitage leads the investigation and manhunt for what he, at first, believes to be a cold and brutal killer. But then he notices some inconsistencies between what he’s been told and what he is seeing. The has a substantial effect on him. While Sophia is on a hunt/quest, Mark is the one on a journey without even realizing it. Sophia changes physically, but Mark is the one changed, just a little bit, within his heart. That’s due to both his experiences with Sophia directly and what he sees following in her wake, namely: lives which were once broken now being made whole again. That includes Mark’s own life.
On which note, that is a perfect contrast with the true villains of this story, who step on people’s lives and leave them dead or broken, all without a second thought. I don’t want to spoil too much about them (things are easy enough to guess as you read the story), but it’s worth mentioning that they are, basically, a collection of sick and twisted monsters who don’t care one bit about human life or lives. They were once intended to be a force for protection, but they’ve long since strayed from that, trampling exactly what they were supposed to be protecting.
Several of them, especially the masterminds, are simply obsessed with control. They are trying to control the world, control people, on every level. But they are blind to a simple truth: the world will not be controlled. Not ever. Their efforts just sow devastation throughout the world… and eventually, you reap what you sow. In this case, there is no better embodiment of that than Sophia Dennison, who is the unintended result of their evil, and comes back to repay them in kind. She is the “equal and opposite reaction” to their actions, the purity coming to cleanse their madness from the world.
Yet, for being so uniquely powerful, she’s really very believable as a character. She doesn’t magically become a machine, or some well-trained warrior with cold, unshakable nerves, just because she’s strong. She gets rattled, she panics, she’s suffered severe emotional and psychological trauma that threatens to break her… she’s human. Her body may heal and protect itself, but it’s how she comes back from the damage you can’t see that is most inspiring, and what makes her truly strong.
Basically, I loved reading her story, and Armitage’s too.
A final comment about the texture of the story, the overlapping themes which make it a truly compelling read. I’ve mentioned the contrast of what the heroes and villains leave in their wake (destruction vs. healing). That goes into the corruption of power as the strong victimize the weak, doing evil things while pretending to be good. That is, until their crimes and other sins come back to bite them… or tear them to pieces, whichever works. There’s also a competition between the past and the present to create the future. As that future is never certain, it does us much good us to truly cherish what we have now, the important things in life, the people we love, before we find it all lost and gone forever.
To that end, there were a few threads which were technically extraneous to the story itself, but which advanced, and enhanced, the themes. So, it could stand just a touch of streamlining while keeping the story intact, but not by much. It’s a fairly tight narrative, pointed, yet fun.
I am definitely going to read the sequel EVO Uprising, in the near future!
Rating: …hmmm, I was able to see some things coming, and there was a bit of exposition-type dialogue… so I’ll give this 8 stars out of 10.
Grade: solid B-Plus.
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