ARC Review | The Death I Gave Him

Posted August 30, 2023 by TheNonbinaryLibrarian in book reviews / 0 Comments

ARC Review | The Death I Gave HimThe Death I Gave Him by Em X. Liu
Published by Solaris on September 12, 2023
Genres: Fiction / Mystery & Detective / General, Fiction / Science Fiction / Crime & Mystery, Fiction / Science Fiction / General, Fiction / Science Fiction / Hard Science Fiction, Fiction / Thrillers / Crime, Fiction / Thrillers / Technological
Pages: 432
Format: ARC
Source: Netgalley


A lyrical, queer sci-fi retelling of Shakespeare's Hamlet as a locked-room thriller

A Twenty-First Century Hamlet.

Hayden Lichfield’s life is ripped apart when he finds his father murdered in their lab, and the camera logs erased. The killer can only have been after one thing: the Sisyphus Formula the two of them developed together, which might one day reverse death itself. Hoping to lure the killer into the open, Hayden steals the research. In the process, he uncovers a recording his father made in the days before his death, and a dying wish: Avenge me…

With the lab on lockdown, Hayden is trapped with four other people—his uncle Charles, lab technician Gabriel Rasmussen, research intern Felicia Xia and their head of security, Felicia’s father Paul—one of whom must be the killer. His only sure ally is the lab’s resident artificial intelligence, Horatio, who has been his dear friend and companion since its creation. With his world collapsing, Hayden must navigate the building’s secrets, uncover his father’s lies, and push the boundaries of sanity in the pursuit of revenge.

I never thought I’d cry over another AI after Jarvis’s “death” in Avengers: Age of Ultron, yet here we are! My love for Horatio knows no bounds, and the best part of his characterization is that Liu made me have sympathy for Hayden (our Hamlet). Typically, I just don’t give a damn about Hamlet. He’s just a whiny boy who can’t make up his mind. In this retelling, Hayden is working on a formula that will “cure” death. And while this might seem like a usual wanting to live forever, there is an actual traumatic event for his fear, which adds depth to the character.

The other characters were also compelling and fascinating. I really loved how much agency and anger Felicia Xia (Ophelia) had in this book. Felicia has her own life that is separate from Hayden. When Hayden does kill her father in this book, she’s angry and wants revenge and I love that! She ends up not going on a journey of revenge, but the fact that Liu writes her angry and upset and lets her have those emotions. But Felicia is still a competent character in the book and creates a life for herself after the events of the book.

The book itself was quite a unique setup. The first chapter is a Forward that acts like this night in 2047 is a real event and the author is looking back on this event through the eyes of an academic. What was once a master’s thesis is now a full-length book. The book is a retelling of the night Graham Lichfield was killed, just as it’s a retelling of the famous play Hamlet. The main source is the neuromapper log between Hayden and Horatio, along with an article from Felicia Xia, audio transcripts retrieved from court documents, and other official documents. A fascinating way to tell a fictional story that makes it feel all the more real!

As I was reading, I was curious about the queer aspects of the novel. It took a while before the romance between Hayden and Horatio was coming through, and at first, I wasn’t sure what to think because it wasn’t what I was expecting. However, as I read more, I fell more in love with Horatio and the love between him and Hayden. It was actually quite beautiful to see this man who’s neglected and hurt by both his parents find a friend in Horatio and eventually more. Those end scenes, reading Hayden’s journal, had me bawling!

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