First published: 29th June 2011
By: Heather Cashman
Your perception will sharpen once you see through a tiger’s eyes.
More than five hundred years after the apocalypse, the survivors of off-grid genetic experimentation have refined their mixed DNA to the point that humans and their animal counterparts share physical and mental links. Varying species have divided into districts, living in a tenuous peace under the President of Calem.
Ardana and her tiger ingenium Rijan leave their life of exile and abuse in the Outskirts, setting out with their twin brothers to redeem themselves and become citizens of the Center. But shedding their past isn’t as easy as they had hoped. When the system that shunned them becomes embroiled in political conflict and treachery, their unique abilities and experiences from the Outskirts make them invaluable to every faction. The runaways become pawns to friends as well as enemies, and with every step it becomes more difficult to tell which is which.
My first thought about Perception was: Confusing. The reader is dropped right into the middle of the action, with no explanation of who everyone is and what kind of world they're living in. You only get little bits of information at infrequent intervals, so I spent a lot of the first part of the book not sure what was going on. Because every character has an 'ingenium' (an animal companion/other half) there are twice as many names to learn and the names are quite difficult and often really similar (there's Ardana, Adamas and Adomar, then Kade, Khan and Kliax). If I was reading a paperback, I would have made myself dizzy by constantly flicking back to re-read and double-check things, but I read this on a Kindle, where I find it cumbersome to go back to previous pages, so I just lived with the confusion and kept reading.
Keeping reading, however, was a good thing. Despite what the synopsis says, I never got the sense that this was a post-apocalyptic future - apart from one reference to The Jungle Book, I didn't spot anything to suggest this was our world - what it did feel like was high fantasy and fortunately, I love high fantasy. Perception is a quest narrative, which includes newly discovered parentage, magic books, castles, secret passageways, buried treasure and an evil ruler who needs to be toppled, and I eat that stuff up with a spoon.
The protagonist and narrator of Perception is Ardana, who has been raised in the Outskirts (outside the legal districts of the land) with her brother, Kade. Ardana and Kade have tiger ingenium - Rijan and Adamas, respectively - creatures they are psychically linked with. The whole concept of ingenium is similar to the daemons in Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials series, except the animals are real animals and not manifestations of a person's soul. I found that difference interesting; the bond between the humans and the animals was always apparent, but the animals had distinct personalities of their own. Rijan was my favourite character, actually, and the balance she found between being loyal to Ardana and fulfilling her own desires as a tigress was cool to read about. I had mixed feelings about Ardana, because I didn't always think her character was cohesively written - sometimes she seemed naive and immature, sometimes she seemed like a world-weary fighter. I didn't really get a handle on who she was as a whole, until the end (I liked her then, though).
The story sets off when strangers come looking for Kade in the Outskirts. Fearing for his life, Ardana and Kade (and their ingenium) run away and start on a journey to find their father. On their way they meet new allies and new enemies and it's not always possible to tell which is which. From here, the book seemed to go from one setting to another. There was the part in the forest, then the part in the safehouse, then the part in the castle. Some of these parts I enjoyed, but there were always some scenes that didn't work for me and the transitioning between them could feel awkward. I will say that the last part of the book, in which the characters take part in a tournament, is a whole lotta fun. It starts with a mad horseback race, turns into an Indiana Jones-style treasure hunt, complete with dangerous booby-traps and then culminates in one of the best fight scenes I've ever read. If you've ever wanted to read about an epic brawl that includes humans, swords, tigers, cobras and scorpions, then you'll find it here.
Obviously, this book is self-published and although this comment may be an affront to those who believe strongly in self-publishing, here goes: I do think this book would benefit from the kind of professionally polishing and grooming that goes on in publishing houses. However, I understand why the author wanted to get Perception out there and overall, it is a good thing that it is out there.
Rating: 3.5 stars