Solitaire by Kelley Eskeridge

I was first introduced to Kelley Eskeridge’s writing about ten years ago through a collection of essays about writing. She and her partner had co-written one regarding what it’s like to be in a relationship with another writer and the process they go through in bettering one another’s writing. So, in my research to find another book to review, I was very excited to find Solitaire by her. The premise is that in the near future, there is a nation-state, Ko, that is entirely corporate. In this society, where cutting edge technology rules along with profit, there are a handful of people known as Hopes. Ren, also known as Jackal, is such a Hope: one of the few born in the first second of the new year. There is a huge emphasis placed on being a Hope – they are given special training within the company that rules, groomed from a young age to help foster international relations. She’s meant to take on an important and powerful role representing Ko.

Unfortunately, secrets surrounding being a Hope lead to some complications, and thus the impetus of the climax. This secret, as important as it is and as damaging as it is to Jackal and others, the secret keepers aren’t given a lot of development. They are brief side characters, with few glimpses into their motives (if at all), and their relationship to others and especially to each other. And yet, this is very definitely a story of a single person growing.

It’s Jackal’s story of her relationship with herself and how she fits within society – or not. She struggles in ways she shouldn’t have as a result of the fallout from the secret, her growing and redefining herself on her terms instead of on the terms of Ko, and her relationship with Snow. She was never allowed to be alone until she was required to and the change it effects is incredible. And it makes an interesting point about the difference between public personas versus private ones, how the weight of expectation in entirely public forums juxtaposes against an uncertain private and very closed off personal life. Certain aspects of this development could have been fleshed out better, but the aftermath is quite intriguing.

Honestly, this character development tied up with secrecy versus openness is really the driving force of the plot. How do characters respond to secrets, whether keeping them or discovering them? How do they respond to them when it comes on an incredibly personal level versus a corporate and government level? These reactions at once highlight the character development and the plot development of what was and what could be. On the downside, Jackal is probably the most secretive of them all: a product of her status that infuriates those around her, and at times, the reader.

What I like about Eskeridge’s style is that she writes in such a manner that anyone could read it. It’s engaging and page-turning. She weaves in perspectives from other points of view that Jackal isn’t privy to until much later, if at all, and does it with the right amount of frequency and detail to add crucial bits to the story without being obtrusive. Now if only she could turn that towards fleshing out more of her upbringing, the story might be better served.

The best part about this for me, other than an intriguing look into government-controlled studies and psychological interludes is the fact that Jackal and Snow are in a same-sex relationship. It’s representation without it being the focal point of the entire plot. It’s discussed as naturally as it should be and not propped up like some strange vexing thing. And it’s a relationship that has its problems as any relationship would, but rooted in love and sincerely so.

Overall, this is a book I would recommend for those who enjoy a bit of dystopia and a bit of psychological thriller set partially in virtual reality. Of course, this is also for those who want more LGBTQIA+ representation, as well!