Book Cover: Chameleon MoonWhen an assassination attempt goes awry, Regan is left with no memory of who, what or where he is. Club singer Evelyn Calliope – like Regan, more than she seems – takes him under her wing. But they live in a quarantined police state, and Regan is on a Kill List. Welcome to Parole, the doomed city suspended above a river of fire.

There’s (at least) three big reasons to give Chameleon Moon the time of day: the mad concept at the heart of it; its commitment to including life and love in all its glorious variety; and its rejection of hatred and despair.

Twenty years ago, Parole was a US city like many others: a riverside industrial complex with a thriving economy. When a local scientist designed a wonder-drug that could cure almost anything (and that appears to have been prescribed for almost everything), its place in history was assured. Then the side effects kicked in.

Users began to change, exhibiting weird and wonderful abilities – superpowers, if you will. Those who tried to quit the drug discovered it was highly addictive; many died trying. The survivors are now quarantined, their continued existence a state secret and their civil rights denied. Nobody knows how the caverns beneath the city caught alight or what continues to fuel the raging inferno – but as the foundations crumble beneath their feet, everyone knows that one day they’ll die in the fire.

Consequently, the city lives in a permanent state of fear; and superpowers aren’t necessarily useful or safe to possess: one character inadvertently makes things explode when he’s stressed or unhappy. The Eye in the Sky enforcers gun people down for breaking curfew, or having abilities that are considered too dangerous (…such as inadvertently causing explosions).

This could be relentlessly bleak, especially given the emotional and physical disabilities of many of the cast. But this is not The Folded Man; instead, RoAnna Sylver has created a Moulin Rouge-esque celebration of love, hope and redemption (those wanting truth, beauty and freedom will find those themes also well-served). Lizard hitman Regan – rendered amnesiac by his even less scrupulous psychic master – must band together with glamorous rock goddess Evelyn (whose voice can sedate or devastate) and her lovers Rose and Danae to evade Eye in the Sky and ultimately try to save the city from the inferno beneath its streets.

The devotion of this central family is irresistible. While some of the supporting cast were too chirpy for my taste, I adored Danae – suspicious, competent, and oh so fierce – and gentle, compassionate Rose. And then there’s Evelyn, kicking ass and healing hearts, who provides the moral backbone of the story and pushes it to break all the rules of dystopia.

It’s not without flaws. I’m a picky reader, and I think it would benefit from a harsher edit – but the characters and sheer spirit carried me through the odd patch of flabby dialogue or awkward prose. I’m less comfortable with what felt like a few loose ends (just why did (spoiler – mouse over to read) Eye in the Sky keep Finn alive??), although as this is the first in a trilogy I suspect most of these will be tucked away in due course.

In a nutshell: an unexpectedly warm-hearted dystopia with an irresistible cast, which celebrates and normalises diversity of all kinds.

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I received a copy from the author in exchange for an honest review. Chameleon Moon is available now in paperback and ebook.