The Phlebotomist by Chris Panatier

Author: Chris Panatier
Publisher: Angry Robot
Format: Paperback
Genre: Science Fiction

Back Cover Blurb

To support herself and her grandson Isaiah, Willa works for the blood contractor Patriot. Instituted to support the war effort, the mandatory draw (The Harvest) has led to a society segregated by blood type. Hoping to put an end to it all, Willa draws on her decades-old phlebotomy training to resurrect an obsolete collection technique, but instead uncovers an awful truth.

Patriot will do anything to protect its secret. On the run and with nowhere else to turn, Willa seeks an alliance with Lock, a notorious blood-hacker who cheats the Harvest to support the children orphaned by it. But they soon find themselves in the grasp of a new type of evil.

What I Thought

In The Phlebotomist, Chris Panatier takes us into the heart of an almost Orwellian dystopian future set in 2067 (so not a too far distant future) where a mega corporation, PATRIOT, controls everything. From what people eat, to how people live after an apparent nuclear disaster starts a chain of events, allowing the corporation greater, and greater control under the guise of helping others survive after the first and subsequent nuclear strikes, and the devastation that followed.

In this future the corporation collects blood donations from the populace in order to help survivors in the Grey Zones. In return for their blood, collected every 45 days, people are given a monthly food box with rations enough to survive along with the basics. But people are also encouraged to give more blood in order to earn extra credits. And some, we learn, give more than they should.

But here’s the catch, the more generic your blood type, O pos or O neg, the more you can earn. So those with universal blood are earning more than those with rarer blood groups, AB pos and AB neg and the like—who are considered lowbloods.

Thus, the city has become a series of annexed ghettos of varying degrees, others worse off by simply being born with the wrong blood type and consigned to poor areas, and barely surviving.

Enter the unlikeliest protagonist in the guise of Willa Wallace, a grandmother, a survivor and more importantly, an old fashioned phlebotomist—an expert and specialist in the collection of blood and blood products. Willa works for Patriot—now the de-facto government—at a blood collection bank convinced she’s doing her part for saving lives.

It’s not long after the author has established the hierarchy, background, and what everyone’s everyday lives are like, that things start to go wrong … wrong that is, for Willa. It starts with a blood-hacker and known criminal trying to force her hand to pass off bad blood. But Willa is having none of it. However, the confrontation disturbs her and, when her cooler loaded with blood meant for Central Collections breaks down, Willa is forced to rush the defective cooler to the depot herself.

What happens next are a string of events that force Willa to reevaluate everything she think she knows, and everything she’s ever been told since the first nuke hit. Because, the truth is far more frightening when she realises who and more importantly, what Patriot are!

This revelation totally blindsided me in the best way possible, so that I was well and truly invested from that point on in finding out—along with Willa—what the hell was going on. And, along with a wily ex-marine and hacker, the Locksmith, falls in with Locks team in uncovering the truth and exposing Patriot for who they really are.

The characters are well delineated, and next to Willa, I loved Lock for her fierce loyalty and inability to give up. I especially enjoyed the evolution of Everard—who was a great character sketch in and of himself. Along with this great bunch of characters, the pacing is none-stop and relentless, in this 310 page novel, as it gallops to a very satisfying ending along with a handful more smaller revelations.

A fast, absorbing read, almost cerebral at times with themes that are current and spot on for events unfolding today, The Phlebotomist is a fresh take on an old tried and tested trope, given it a unique twist of its own that, in the end, was bloody marvellous!

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