Review by Roy Boyd
Mutations Episode 1 is the first book in the latest series from the creators of Mermaid Project. Rather than a brand new adventure, this is effectively a sequel to that five-book cycle. The blurb on the back of this book calls this a new ‘cycle’, but the series apparently ends with Episode 2, so they may be stretching the meaning of that word beyond breaking point.
The book opens with a pod of orcas attacking a fishing boat. With torpedoes! After this explosive start we’re reintroduced to our two main characters – Romane Pennac and Brahim El Malik – who are now reduced to working as private investigators taking on all sorts of crappy jobs. Then El Malik’s ex-wife turns up and offers them positions heading up a special UN task force that will investigate the cetacean attacks, of which the torpedo-wielding orcas is just one of many.
Our team go to Mozambique, and Pennac and El Malik yet again find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere, though this time around its never-ending miles of ice rather than ocean. If you’re wondering why they’re surrounded by ice while in Mozambique, it’s because of the massive climate change that has occurred in the not-too-distant future setting of these stories.
Once back in civilization they hook up with other team members Kruger (who has had his own plot strand to handle) and El Malik’s ex-wife. The plot thickens, introducing the cetacean’s human co-conspirators. Well, even these writers aren’t going so far as to suggest that the animals have advanced enough to be building rocket-launchers. No, it’s some villains from the previous books, rearing their ugly, white supremacist heads again.
There’s a fair amount of exposition explaining everything that happened in earlier books, and telling us who everyone is, as some characters have a lot of backstory. For example, Kruger started out as a kidnapping psycho and morphed into a trusted, if slightly unhinged, member of the team. Because of all the getting up-to-speed, there’s not much room for the plot to move forward. That’s not to have a pop at the writers Leo and Corine Jamar, who manage yet again to produce an engaging and often exciting tale that encompasses diverse and interesting locations, all beautifully depicted by Fred Simon. The art is matches the quality of the earlier series, with lots of stunning vistas and clean linework that’s like a modern take on Tintin viewed through a manga lens.
Racism continues to be one of the many subjects that the creators touch upon, though one has to be sensitive when dealing with this subject. Romane is a white girl in a black world, though she calls her partner ‘Darkie’, which might raise a few eyebrows, and one of our intrepid heroes (a white man) blacks up at one point. In fact, white people blacking up is something of a recurring motif.
The ending is pure The Empire Strikes Back, a brief pause before the climactic events of the next book.