Madeline Ashby’s Company Town takes place in New Arcadia, a city built atop an oil rig off the east coast of Canada. Populated by technologically-augmented humans with Newfoundland accents, the story follows Go-Jung Hwa, a bodyguard for legalized sex workers. When the rig is purchased by the affluent Lynch family, the aging patriarch approaches Hwa with a job offer – protect his fifteen year old son from a litany of death threats. Soon after she takes the job, a number of her friends from the sex trade begin to fall to the hand of a suspected serial killer. Can Hwa balance her new responsibilities alongside her quest to find and stop the person murdering her friends?
I haven’t had the chance to read a lot of fiction – especially sci-fi – that’s set in Canada, so this was a relatively fresh experience for me. Being from Cape Breton, the Newfoundland accent and dialect is in many ways similar to the one I grew up with, so seeing it written out in a novel was a bit jarring at first but only enhanced my enjoyment going forward.
Hwa, the novel’s protagonist, stands out in more ways than one. Born with Sturge-Weber disease, her body is partially “stained” (her words). Seeing as no technological modification would aid in her appearance and straddled with a low income making modifications economically impossible, Hwa is one of the only pure and organic citizens in New Arcadia. This makes her nearly undetectable by those with cybernetic enhancements thus making her role as a bodyguard the perfect fit. Her disease has left her with a wealth of insecurities which brings her down to earth and makes her a more relatable character. Don’t let that fool you completely though, she’s still a certified ass-kicker and she steals every scene she’s in.
It’s not like Hwa has it easy, either. The villains that Ashby created to put in her way were real bastards. Seeing as the identity of the serial killer is in the dark well up until the end, when I arrived at the conclusion, the reveal blew my mind. As much as I love figuring out the “bad guy” ahead of the main character, there’s nothing better than being wrong.
With many threads to follow, Company Town is a fast-paced read. The world-building is top-notch and the cast of characters works well to push the novel forward. Company Town is a wildly original story and a great pick for CBC’s 2017 edition of Canada Reads. I’m hoping for a strong showing from Tamara Taylor.