Angel on the Ropes by Jill Schultz (Self-Published, 2013, 287pp.)
Angel on the Ropes takes place on Penance, a space colony orbiting Earth, and focuses on the trials and tribulations of Amandine Sand. She’s a brilliant trapeze artist who’s been with the Cristallo Circus for seventeen years. Unfortunately, she’s also a leopard, which means she was born with spot-like birthmarks all over her body—a condition that many incorrectly associate with the spread of the dreaded plaguepox virus. Although the Cristallo Circus has secretly provided a haven for its leopard performers for years, Amandine still finds herself covering up her spots with makeup whenever she goes out in public. The main opponents of leopards are the hostile Plaguellants, a futuristic kind of Ku Klux Klan obsessed with genetic “purity,” as well as the eradication of all germs and plaguepox. Opposing the Plaguellants are the Spots, militant leopards that fight back against these futuristic germaphobes, but all too often end up causing just as much mayhem as their enemies. Amandine herself is with the Seekers, an organization which embraces pacifism and tries to find a healthy medium between these two extremes. Although she is devoted to the circus, she finds herself devoting more and more time to the Seekers as political tensions rise and violence threatens to erupt throughout the entire colony.
Like all good science fiction, this story is big on ideas. I absolutely loved the idea of the colony’s health care system, which relies solely on “health casinos” to provide people with medical insurance. (If you lose too many times at the casino games, you become an indentured servant to the system!) The characters, while believable and sympathetic, could have been more developed. However, I do understand that when writing science fiction, it’s better to develop fresh, new ideas rather than focus on characters (this is one of the few times you will ever see me defending the importance of plot over characters). A interesting twist on the modern health care crisis, I’d recommend Angel on the Ropes to any lover of classical science fiction.
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