Thursday, December 12, 2013

Review: Vitro by Jessica Khoury

Review: Vitro by Jessica Khoury
Release date: January 14th, 2013
Publisher: Razorbill (Penguin)
Series: Companion to Origin (my review). Reading both is NOT NECESSARY.
Source: ARC from the publisher
Rating: While this book has a few serious flaws (Science =/= evil, cardboard characters, narrative convenience), it's still a fun and action-packed read I ended up enjoying.


A death-defying tropical adventure delivers a frightening message about dabbling with creation from the talented author of Origin.

On a remote island in the Pacific, Corpus scientists have taken test tube embryos and given them life. These beings—the Vitros—have knowledge and abilities most humans can only dream of. But they also have one enormous flaw.

Sophie Crue is determined to get to Skin Island and find her mother, a scientist who left Sophie behind years ago. She enlists hunky charter pilot Jim Julien to take her there. But once on the island, Sophie and Jim encounter more than they bargained for, including a charming, brilliant Vitro named Nicholas and an innocent, newly awoken one named Lux.

In a race for their lives, Sophie and Jim are about to discover what happens when science stretches too far beyond its reach.

 I had extremely mixed feelings on Origin, Vitro's companion novel and Khoury's debut. I'm pleased to say that, while Vitro certainly could have been strengthened in places, overall it was a more solid novel, even though it had far less impact on me. Origin seriously angered me in places, but is also made me burst into hideous baby tears at one point; Vitro, while containing more likeable characters and a fun plot, never really got inside me in the ways I want my books to do.

The part of that synopsis that gives me pause is "delivers a frightening message about dabbling with creation". (Also, the use of the word "hunky", because honestly.) To me, that smacks of being disturbingly anti-science, as if all scientific innovation is evil and will ruin humanity and violate the laws of the heavens all that. Not my thing. 

I reject yo bullshit.
While Origin had some anti-science themes that made me uncomfortable, I thought that Vitro didn't have as much of that issue. The Vitro project, which (obviously) has gone amok, did start out with honorable scientific intentions. The theme is more like...  science doesn't kill people, people kill people. But they use science to do it. When science falls into the wrong hands.

Whatever. Don't try to over-think this book. This book is best enjoyed as an action-movie with a fast and rather twisty (occasionally predictable, occasionally surprising) plot. If you read it in the right mindset, you won't mind that we aren't given a chance to really get to know Sophie, our plucky main character with a lot of untapped narrative potential, or Jim, who actually is rather hunky and has faint echoes (very, very faint) of Thorne from Scarlet by Marissa Meyer. They're our two leads, and in a way it's almost criminal how little we get to know them. What I learned, I loved. I wanted to feel what they felt. I wanted their bond to be intensified, for their feelings to be stronger and more relatable. I wanted this ship to sail me safely to shore! Instead, it's more like a canoe. There's just no steam behind it, really.

I think I shipped the idea of Jim and Sophie more than the actual characters, though they had their moments. Sophie hasn't seen her mother in years. She doesn't get along with her father or stepfamily and feels she's always trying to make her absent scientist mother love her. One day, she gets an urgent email from hr mother, and she hops a plane and flies to Guam, her childhood home. No pilot with take her to the nearby Skin Island, the mysterious and creepy research facility at which Sophie's mother works, save for Sophie's handsome childhood friend, Jim. Jim is pretty chraming and handsome, and Sophie didn't make me want to punch a wall, like Pia did in Origin, so YAY IMPROVEMENT.

I think Khoury wanted to take their chracters there, but she didn't quite achieve it, and so they sadly left me a bit flat in places. Where Khoury does excell is in concepts, creepiness, and action scenes. Oh, also setting. I adored the feel of these Pacific Islands. Sometimes the writing would feel unpolished, and then all of a sudden she would swing into these descriptive paragraphs painting the color of the sunset or the clouds outside Jim's plane, and I was like damn. Writing. Hello there.

The absolute best thing about this book is the voice and character of Lux, a newborn Vitro with zero life experience (obviously, as she literally only just began living). And unfortunately, that is the one thing I can't tell you about, because the things I love about her are a major spoiler. SAD SAD. I actually really liked the reveal of what the Vitros are and why they are and what they're for. Lux had a really interesting voice and unique arc. Khoury was attempting something very different with her point of view, getting into the mindset of someone with the... um... limitations that a Vitro would have. I was quite impressed with how she pulled it off.

I wish I could say more, but I CANNOT

Sophie's relationship with her mother was... eh? Okay? There's growth and an attempt to make me feel, but I mostly shrugged at that one. What I did NOT love was a certain scene between Sophie and  Russian business man which I ALSO can't talk about because spoilers. Suffice it to say, it was tremendously convenient and entirely unbelievable. 

I think some people are going to love Vitro, and others are going to despise it. Honestly? I very much enjoyed reading it, though I probably shouldn't have, and it definitely left me wanting (particular in the shipping and feeling arenas. I will forgive even the most egregious of plotting/thematic errors if you give me feels). 


I think this is one of those books that you're going to have to check out yourself. Mostly, I feel rather in the middle about it. It was a book I enjoyed reading while I was reading it, but it's not going to stick with me for very long.


  1. Aw. I wish you had loved it more! But glad you didn't hate it. <3 I think I will love it, as I really, really loved Origin when I read it a year ago :) Anyway. Thank you for sharing your amazing review Gillian. <3 I'm sorry you didn't fully love the shipping, but glad you didn't despise it :)

  2. I haven't read Origin yet. After hearing mixed reviews I held off reading it just yet. Even though it's not necessary to read I'll likely read it first still.. sorry you didn't love it so much though but great review!

  3. Hmmm, I haven't read Origin yet but I wanted to read both Origin and this one... I'm not very pleased about a science-is-evil subtext going on in there at all...

  4. A companion to Origin, eh? Interesting. I am hesitant, but intrigued.

    Much like you, I strongly disliked 'science is unilaterally evil' track the first book took. Same with the use of the word hunky in the blurb (really?). While I can see why it's easy to take that approach, it's not that black and white. It makes me appreciate Mira Grant (why yes I have manufactured this opportunity to plug Mira Grant, shocking, I know. READ FEED.). ANYWAY, she is more of the 'yes, science can be evil but less because of the science and more because of the people and oh, also, by the way, it is also amazing.' THERE ARE MORE THAN 50 SHADES OF GREY. I don't even know if this made sense and I wrote it. Going to sleep now.

    (Sidebar, may I bother the term canoe? It speaks to me.)


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