The Fortune Follies by Catori Sarmiento does not disappoint. This fiery new alternative history novel introduces its readers to both a vaguely familiar Seattle and a cast of troubled characters. We think you’re going to want to hear about this one.
In Sarmiento’s world, America did not bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WWII. Instead, it executed Operation Downfall, and in the years since, the world has taken a turn toward the technological.
As the novel opens, Sarah Igarashi ventures from her home in Alaska to Seattle, a city centered around a monopoly called Sinclair Industries. This powerful enterprise is known not only for its cigarettes that provide energy but also for its vastly underpaid workers and its contribution to the city’s uneven social system, prejudice, and violence.
When Sarah arrives in Seattle, she moves straight in with her cousin Penny, a sixteen-year old with enough money to live in a beautiful house and to chase her musical dreams. But Sarah doesn’t get much time to relax. Moments later, Penny asks Sarah how she plans to pay her rent. As you might guess, that leads her straight into the arms of Sinclair Industries.
“It’s impossible to walk when the world is collapsing.”
The author does a wonderful job of demonstrating growth with nearly every character in the novel. For example, Penny might seem a bit spoiled and self-centered in the early going, but as we get to know her, our first judgment comes with a few complications.
While the alternative history is a strong element to this story, the main conflicts come in the form of familial and personal complications. Penny’s cousin-in-law, Catherine, offers the reader perhaps the most heartbreaking story in this one. We don’t want to say too much about it, but we can say that it involves a bathtub and a heaping pile of reader empathy.
Sarmiento’s skill lies clearly within her characters and their intimate storylines. Her strong plot meshes naturally with their personal histories. However, there are a few moments in Fortune Follies where the writing could have been cleaned up a bit more. Passive voice and description occasionally run a bit longer than they need to, and the violent and essential scenes are sometimes easier to miss than they should be. But don’t think that takes away from any bit of the enjoyment of this novel.
In the end, The Fortune Follies (Double Dragon Ebooks, 2018) proves to be a truly endearing, entertaining, and excellent read. Our readers flew through its final chapters, desirous of learning where Sarah and Penny will end up and what will come of Seattle. It comes highly recommended to fans of alternative history, Japanese culture, and uneven social systems.
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