Review: Cipher

cover-cipher Title: Cipher
Author: Aileen Erin
Series: The Shadow Ravens #1
Length: Novel
Genre: Sci-Fi Romance
Available: 13th October

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In the not-too-distant future, the color of your helix tattoo shows exactly how your DNA was modified—green for super-smart scientists, black for pumped-up warriors, white for the immortal Seligo—but Cipher’s red helix is a death sentence. It’s a sign of unstable DNA, which is probably the reason she can manipulate electricity.

When she was eight years old, Cipher made the mistake of showing her uncle the tattoo. In return, he killed her parents and tried to kidnap her.

She’s been on the run ever since, and twelve long years later, Cipher is tired of hiding. Survival isn’t enough anymore. She wants her life back.

Hacking into the Citadel mainframe is a huge risk, but it pays off when she finds a database on red helixes. Before she can copy it, she loses control of her power, charring her last processor, and the only person in the Arizona Voids that can get her back online is her oldest friend, Knightly. She hasn’t seen him in person since she started running, and Knightly 2.0 is fully upgraded with a six-pack and knee-melting smile.

For a girl like Cipher, trust doesn’t come easily, but Knightly makes her yearn for a life she knows she can’t have, especially when every secret she reveals endangers them both.


Source: ARC from NetGalley

The first of a collaborative series (three separate authors, three separate heroine-led books, one world and a final combined novel), Cipher starts with a bang – literally. As a Red Helix, Cipher’s unstable DNA manifests itself by drawing energy. So whenever she gets panicked or stressed she has a habit of blowing the electrics. For years she’s been struggling to keep things under control, and running whenever her control slips. This time she isn’t running, because for the first time she has a friend and she doesn’t want to lose her. Surely a few more weeks in one place won’t hurt?

Except that the hunters who’ve been tracking Cipher all her life are closing in, including her uncle. Luckily for Cipher her uncle isn’t the only person from her childhood who’s looking for her. Surprises are in store for all involved, and not all of them bad.

I really enjoyed this sci-fi romance, even though I’m not a techno-geek. It’s full of peril and action, building slowly and steadily towards an action-packed climax. Cipher is a young woman who has learned the hard way not to trust or get too close to people. She’s independent and prickly, but smart too – she’s had to be. In Knight, however, she’s met her match. (And it is Knight, the blurb is wrong.) He’s as determined as she is stubborn, and he’s not letting her out of his sight. Being a double-Helix he might be everything she’s learned to run from, but somehow she can’t help trusting him.

They’re a cute pair, with their shared past and previous friendship on the internet. I liked how they grew closer without too much angst, and how Knight is never confused about his feelings. With all the other issues going on, it was nice that their romance is pretty straight forward.

The world this is set in is interesting. Although I have to admit I would have liked a little more information on the Helixes, and just how the Red comes about – how can people be born with unstable DNA? I would also have liked to have known more about the other Helixes. We learned about the UV (or white, it seems to change) Helixes, or Seligo, but apparently there are ten different types in all. Blacks are clearly the fighters, Greens are techno-geniuses, and there’s a hint that Blues have some sort of mind-control powers, maybe, but we’re told nothing about the rest.  Which looking back is kind of annoying. I didn’t mind too much while reading, but it’s certainly something I hope gets explored in the other books.

In fact, thinking about it, there’s not a lot of world-building in this book. It mostly relies on what we know of our world, and drops hints here and there about the futuristic differences – such as the Seligo being in power, and using some sort of serum to prolong their lives. Normal (non-Helix) people seem to live in “Voids” in various states of poverty, while the Helixes form a ruling upper class. But we never find out just how this came about, what changed or who came up with the trick of augmenting DNA. So a lot of this goes unexplained, though the action in the book was enough to carry me through without too much trouble.

In terms of sci-fi it’s on the lighter side of the genre, with a strong romance at its heart, so be warned if romance isn’t your thing. If it is, though, this is a highly readable, really enjoyable tale of lurking danger, from without and within, and learning to trust yourself and others. I look forward to seeing what the next book brings, with a different author and a different heroine. It’s an interesting concept, so I hope we get to see more of this world and the fascinating things it promises.


Cipher is Out 14th October!
Visit Aileen Erin for more details.

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