Off Target by Eve Smith

Today I am delighted to share my thoughts on Off Target, the latest thriller from Eve Smith. I loved the author’s dystopian debut, The Waiting Rooms and so have been dying to see what delights she would offer us next. I was not disappointed. My thanks to Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books for treating me to an early copy, and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the blog tour invite. Here’s what it’s all about:

Source: Advance Reader Copy/Owned EBook
Release Date: 17 February 2022
Publisher: Orenda Books

About the Book

When a one-night stand leads to a long-desired pregnancy, Susan will do anything to ensure her husband won’t find out … including the unthinkable. But when something horrendous is unleashed around the globe, her secret isn’t the only thing that is no longer safe…

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…

Bestselling author of The Waiting Rooms, Eve Smith returns with an authentic, startlingly thought-provoking, disturbing blockbuster of a thriller that provides a chilling glimpse of a future that’s just one modification away…

My Thoughts

This book really hits the spot. With this future set tale based heavily in the ethical and moral arguments surrounding genetic engineering, Eve Smith has created a book which is not only packed full of tension and intrigue, but that also forces the reader to confront some very important and very relevant questions head on. She challenges us to think about the whole idea of the ‘designer baby’, something that is probably out of the financial reach, or even desires of most of us, but something that has certainly been increasing in press coverage over recent years as scientific discoveries draw us ever closer to being able to pick the ‘perfect’ child. This is a very clever and enthralling book, written by someone who impresses with every page turn, and is now firmly in my must read list.

In Off Target, the author introduces us to Susan, a woman whose situation many women can probably empathise with. It is certainly far from unique – the long wanted child who is seemingly always just out of reach – and the fact she falls pregnant after a very drunken and ill advised one night stand with a colleague is definitely not a new premise, in life or in literature. But … Eve Smith has taken this ‘wrong father’ concept one step further, as story is set in the not too distant future, where the concept of natural conception is becoming more and more rare and where genetic screening, to iron out any kinks in an unborn babies genetic profile that may lead to less than desirable hereditary medical conditions, is commonplace. Susan is delighted to fall pregnant, but beset with worry that the father may well not be her husband, the only man she wants to have a child with. Her dilemma forces her to take drastic and unthinkable action, the consequences of which are far reaching and potentially devastating, for her marriage and her unborn child as they face a future in which there is increasing unrest with regards to the whole culture of genetically engineered children, and the impact that scientific manipulation has on the ongoing health and welfare of the new generation.

This book is laced with moments of real tension, an undulating sense of the threat against Susan and her daughter, Zurel. We don’t initially know why, what possible reason could anyone have for wanting to hurt them, but the further we journey into Susan’s past, the more we understand. This is a dual timeline story, exploring the ‘then’ and the ‘now’, the events leading up to Susan’s pregnancy and her decision to take such a drastic step that potentially risks her daughter’s life, and the present day, as she struggles with the relationship with Zurel who is becoming increasingly withdrawn and no longer speaks. It is uncertain if this is an ‘after-effect’ of her pre-natal treatment or something else, but, although she will not speak to anyone, we are far from ignorant of Zurel’s thoughts as Eve Smith drip feeds them into the narrative to perfect effect. It is truly enlightening, and the more we learn, the more my heart broke for Zurel. She is caught in the middle of a situation not of her making, and which she doesn’t fully understand and it adds a real emotional layer to an already divisive, moral dilemma. I felt a real emotional pull towards Zurel. I could sense her fear, her confusion, and each of the scenes in which she appear were so simple and yet so impactful, it drew me deeper into the story, into her story.

Susan is a woman I struggled to entirely bond with. I could appreciate her situation, her absolute desire to become a mother and her frustration that, month after month, she failed to conceive naturally. IVF would be the natural next step, but one her husband, Steve, is dead set against for seemingly honest and personal reasons. I can also understand her confusion as she gets the one thing she wants, but with potentially entirely the wrong man. But her actions, the decisions she came to make her slightly more troubling to me for reasons that are are the heart of the whole novel. I struggled to accept the choices she made, keeping me just one step removed from really liking her, but no less invested in her story, and in discovering the root cause of the threat against her. There were redeeming qualities, her absolute dedication to her daughter and her willingness to sacrifice everything for Zurel showing that her actions, even if misguided, did come from the heart. She is, above all else, a fiercely dedicated mother.

It is not unusual, even now, for parents to screen for certain genetic conditions, so use that information to decide if they should keep the child they are carrying. To a certain degree I fully understand that. But in Eve Smith’s dystopian future, there is genetic screening for every condition, even showing genetic markers for things like depression and obesity, as well as life limiting conditions and, through IVF, they have the ability to ‘erase’ these defective genetic markers and essentially create the perfect child. But is it impossible to tell what this genetic manipulation will do to the child, and this is territory the author explores to startling and worrying effect. We are faced with a world that essentially says that anything less than perfect is wrong, worthless. That all disability should be erased.

It creates some great ethical questions for us to ponder as we read, and ponder I did, forcing myself to consider what actions I might take if faced with the same situation. How would I feel if part of my personality, of the person I was to become, had been genetically reprogrammed before I was even born. That division, that debate if you will, manifests itself in the novel by the actions of the protestors, those who challenge over the impact of the genetic manipulation, protests which become increasingly violent and disturbing. It’s a future I could picture all too easily, an air of authenticity permeating every page.

There is so much I want to say about this book, about the moral, ethical and political divide over the ethics of genetic manipulation, of the very nature of those who prey upon a parents desire to do the best by their children for personal gain. There is no doubt that this endeavour, this concept, has started with the very best of intention, but just how far should science be allowed to go in terms of deciding the future of human evolution? And if you erase one part of a person’s personality, just what else might grow in its place …

Tense, intriguing, morally and ethically challenging, and perfectly paced, I know my review has not done the book justice, but it is most definitely recommended.

And it’s getting one of these too.

About the Author

Eve Smith writes speculative fiction, mainly about the things that scare her. 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. In this world of questionable facts, stats and news, she believes storytelling is more important than ever to engage people in real life issues. Set twenty years after an antibiotic crisis,her debut novel The Waiting
Rooms was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize First Novel Award. Her flash fiction has been shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award and highly commended for The Brighton Prize.

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

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