Book Review: Off Target by Eve Smith

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A longed-for baby
An unthinkable decision
A deadly mistake

In an all-too-possible near future, when genetic engineering has become the norm for humans, not just crops, parents are prepared to take incalculable risks to ensure that their babies are perfect … altering genes that may cause illness, and more…

Susan has been trying for a baby for years, and when an impulsive one-night stand makes her dream come true, she’ll do anything to keep her daughter and ensure her husband doesn’t find out … including the unthinkable. She believes her secret is safe. For now.

But as governments embark on a perilous genetic arms race and children around the globe start experiencing a host of distressing symptoms – even taking their own lives – something truly horrendous is unleashed. Because those children have only one thing in common, and people are starting to ask questions…

My great thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for sending me a proof copy of Off Target by Eve Smith when I enthused about the premise of the book on Twitter. As always, my review is my honest and impartial opinion of the book.

I am a massive fan of speculative fiction so, as soon as I saw Karen Sullivan talking about this book on Twitter, I was excited about it. As someone who has been through reproductive trauma myself, I knew that the story of a woman struggling to have the baby she so desperately wants would resonate deeply with me, and the combination of the two was irresistible.

This book delivered everything I was hoping for and more. It is such a thoughtful and thought-provoking novel which explores complex and controversial ideas in a scenario that is futuristic but plausible enough to make it urgently terrifying. Anyone who walks away from this book with a brain that isn’t mulling over their thoughts on what they would do if faced with these choices, coupled with an underlying sense of unease, wasn’t paying proper attention to the story.

When I was in the third year of my law degree, one of the optional modules I studied was Law and Medical Ethics. Given my advanced age, you can see this is an issue which has fascinated me for many years. Even back then, the ethics of using advances in reproductive technology to help parents have healthy babies was one of the topics under debate and, as new discoveries are made and possibilities expand, the topic becomes only more difficult and contentious. This is the world that Eve Smith is exploring in Off Target and she really cuts to the core of the matter. Just because medicine CAN do something, does that mean that it should? At what point do the rights of the foetus separate from the rights of the parent? What actually makes us the people we are and how much can we change and still be the person we were meant to be? Where is the line to be drawn between treatment that spares children pain and suffering and treatment that edges into eugenics?

These are dilemmas that have troubled society since medicine was first able to intervene to prevent unwanted pregnancies, resolve medical issues in the womb and help infertile couples conceive. You will get many different answers to what is right and wrong in these scenarios, depending on what is important to the individual you are talking to and, bringing up these topics in assured to result in heated debate. It’s an issue people feel strongly about, and reading this book is sure to provoke a visceral response in many. For this reason, it would make an excellent book club read. The fact that these questions are looming on the near horizon will serve only to make any debate more heated. These are scenarios that we may have to deal with in the not-too-distant future and, given some of the reactions we have seen over the past year to the roll out of the Covid vaccine, the extreme responses to genetic modification that Eve explores in this novel are scarily probable.

This book felt prescient to me, as someone who has some small experience and interest in this area, and I found it hugely compelling, deeply unsettling and utterly engrossing. One of the most provocative and stimulating books I have read in a good long while, I can’t rate it highly enough. Orenda continue to have a keen eye for publishing the highest quality and most interesting books and authors in their chosen genres.

Off Target is out now in ebook and paperback formats. You can get it at all good bookshops and online retailers including here.

Having already received a proof copy of Off Target, I am giving away the finished copy of the book I received in my Orenda subscription to one lucky reader. Pop over to my Twitter profile at @book_problem for more details.

About the Author

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Longlisted for the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize and described by British bookshop chain Waterstones as: “an exciting new voice in crime fiction”, Eve Smith’s debut novel The Waiting Rooms was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize First Novel Award and was selected as a Book of the Month in The Guardian just after launch.

“Smith combines the excitement of a medical thriller à la Michael Crichton with sensitive characterisation and social insight in a timely debut novel all the more remarkable for being conceived and written before the current pandemic.”

Eve writes speculative fiction, mainly about the things that scare her. In this world of questionable facts, stats and news, she believes storytelling is more important than ever to engage people in real life issues.

She attributes her love of all things dark and dystopian to a childhood watching Tales of the Unexpected and black-and-white Edgar Allen Poe double bills.

Her new thriller, Off Target, is another chilling, prophetic page-turner set in a near future, when genetic engineering has become the norm for humans, not just crops, and parents are prepared to take incalculable risks to ensure their babies are perfect.

Eve’s previous job as COO of an environmental charity took her to research projects across Asia, Africa and the Americas, and she has an ongoing passion for wild creatures, wild science and far-flung places.

When she’s not writing, she’s chasing across fields after her dog, attempting to organise herself and her family or off exploring somewhere new.

Connect with Eve:

Website: https://www.evesmithauthor.com

Facebook: Eve Smith Author

Twitter: @evecsmith

Instagram: @evesmithauthor

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