Saturday, August 17, 2013

Chimps Lead the Action in Devolution

Action rules in Peter Clenott's Devolution, the story of a teenage girl raised by chimpanzees. The book is peopled by interesting characters and plays out against a well-described setting, but it depends on a rising crescendo of fist fights, gun battles, and ferocious attacks by wild animals (and humans) to propel the reader through the story.

As entertaining as the mayhem might be (and it is entertaining), it actually serves to underscore the theme of the book, which is how thin the line really is between man and beast. The protagonist, Chiku Flynn, is the sixteen-year-old daughter of two deeply flawed scientists who essentially turned her upbringing over to the chimpanzees they are studying on an island in the Congo. The result is a heroine every bit as compelling as Lisbeth Salander from Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

There are a raft of other characters, too, but the most interesting are the chimps. Clenott gave them distinct personalities, the ability to communicate, and individual motivations for their actions. This could have been cringe-inducing and mawkish, but he pulled it off quite well and made the primates fully believable characters.

The Congo itself plays a huge role in the novel. Having visited Central Africa myself and studied the DRC while writing my novel, Heart of Diamonds, I read Clenott's work with a particularly critical eye. My conclusion: his portrayal of the nation's tragic history and its current convoluted conflict is spot on.

Devolution is a fun, compelling read based on a fascinatingly creative premise.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

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