Gemsigns by Stephanie Saulter came to my attention last year at a RHD conference. A PhD student gave a paper on posthumanism (a favourite topic of mine) and used this novel as an example text. Unfortunately, it did mean that the end was spoiled for me, which ended up not mattering when I picked up the second novel in the series, Binary, at the library first and read the first two chapters before realising my mistake.
So, having finally managed to read the first novel, here are my thoughts. For some reason I thought this novel was for young adults. Maybe the conference paper included other young adult novels so I presumed it too was one, but the usual markers for young adult literature (such as a teen protagonist) was absent. The novel was politically complex and focused on the question “What is it that makes us human?” Genetically engineered ‘gems’ have been designed to fulfil the more physically demanding work after a devastating disease almost wiped out the entire human population, but the novel is set over a hundred years later when the human race has stabilised and the gems are seeking to be recognised in their own right. While I would recommend this novel to a young adult, and I know lots of YA novels that can be more than enjoyed by adult readers (because YA does include the word ‘adult’), it is told from multiple perspectives and the events that occur take priority.
The world is carefully constructed and echoes contemporary issues of racism, sexism, and a whole lot of other isms in a way that is clever and creative. And rather than ending with the gems success in the first novel, the second novel asks “then what?” and continues to explore the disparity between the law and reality. While heavier than I thought going in, I would definitely recommend these novels to anyone interested in equality, which should be everyone.