Blackthorn Book Tours: The Warden, Jon Richter

  • Purchase link:
  • Genre: Psychological Thriller
  • Print length: 312
  • Suitable for young adults? This is an adult book but suitable for mature teenagers 16-
  • 18
  • Trigger warnings: Covid references; homicide with some graphic violence; references
  • to medical experimentation on humans; swearing; brief animal cruelty (goldfish left
  • to die); references to suicide and mental illness
  • Amazon Rating: 4.5 stars

About The Warden
The year is 2024, and the residents of the Tower, a virus-proof apartment building, live in a
state of permanent lockdown. The building is controlled by a state-of-the-art AI named
James, who keeps the residents safe but incarcerated. Behind bricked-up front doors, their
every need is serviced; they are pampered but remain prisoners.
This suits Eugene just fine. Ravaged by the traumas of his past, the agoraphobic ex-detective has no intention of ever setting foot outside again. But when he finds the Tower’s building manager brutally murdered, his investigator’s instincts won’t allow him to ignore the vicious crime. What Eugene finds beyond the comfort of his apartment’s walls will turn his sheltered existence upside down. To unravel the Tower’s mysteries, he must confront James… and James takes his role as the Warden very, very seriously.

I’m proud to say my review has been chosen the Top Review for this tour – thank you

I’d like to thank Blackthorn tours and the author for providing the book for free with a request for an honest review. The latest read for Blackthorn explores very timely matters of being under lockdown and of over-relying on technology.

Unlike many people around me, I have no problem staying under lockdown during the rampant pandemic. I can stay at home for days at a time and not feel affected… To me, those days are like any other. I get up, sit down to work and write a report on my daily remote activities. I do not need to make excuses when I don’t want to attend a social gathering – as an introvert, I do not always feel comfortable going. I chat on messenger with people I know and I’m certain they are on the other side. I do not use video chats and find it easier to trust a person’s style when we are typing.

“The Warden” questions whether we can really live our lives under lock and key in completely virtual reality. Is it even a life, and if not, what is it? And what impact is technology having on us and this kind of life? Jon Richter has crafted a page-turning thought-provoking piece of a fast-paced techno-thriller that takes on the pandemic and explores its potential development and impact but goes much further by including our dependence on technology and the connection we have to the world through technology. He uses parallel narratives conveyed in short alternating chapters to build suspense and interest that is maintained until the last page. I couldn’t put it down. The story has completely clicked with me.

There’s a block of flats called the tower whose residents cannot go outside due to strict restrictions related to the increasingly aggressive spread of Covid. There is a warden, James, who takes his job very seriously, but that suits the protagonist, Eugene, just fine. He gets food, online access, chats with other people online, and takes classes. Even funerals are held online. Human labour is not just cut to avoid danger; it becomes redundant. Everything humans could possibly want is provided by smart homes and other technological innovations. Life’s a dream now, unlike the nearly forgotten life he had. Who needs all the burdens it carried before, anyway? In this utopia, he needs nothing more from the outside world, or does he? But one day, the utopian routine of robotic deliveries is interrupted when one of the building managers, an employee of the tower’s developer, is literally slaughtered. Eugene then begins a race against time as he must not only investigate but also get to the top of the tower and rescue a woman he met in an online class. But is everything what it seems? We will find out with him. The story is set in 2024 and we follow his quest as he discovers what it means to be a prisoner in his own home, how easily an isolated community falls apart and how lockdown affects individuals when leaving home feels like danger but at the same time staying feels like imprisonment. I really like how this part becomes an escape the tower story showing how buildings can be traps while also showing what it means to stay at home during lockdown and what’s the price.

The narrative also moves back in time to another protagonist who contributes to the situation we find in 2024. We meet Felicity, an ambitious woman who will do anything to work her way up the corporate ladder. She and her surrounding in general are not likeable; her story, rather, shows a corporate race for control and power that capitalises on the chaos of the pandemic. Felicity develops a life-like AI. This parallel narrative explores the aggressive race for control of corporations vying to dominate technological markets, but also the increasing demand for and impact of technology on lives confined to four walls, and how invasive it is – we see the effects with Eugene. The two narratives are brought together by the AI character James, who shows the great learning potential of programmed intelligence to do many things humans do and becomes a ubiquitous presence in the lives of people, the country, and the world at large. Richter takes AI’s role far; at one point, James even seems like a kind of a god, sometimes observing without interfering but sometimes dispensing poetic justice to its creators and everyone around – I really liked one bit when it does, however, it raises many questions and issues, including how far it can really go. James represents many sides of technology, the good- but also one that may go too far in its “benevolence”- and the aspects that can be used to mislead and threaten us, such as deep fakes and manipulations of identity. Do we really know who we are talking to online? Can we trust the people on screen to be who they are?

Very interesting and timely ideas are put together in a well-crafted and engaging way. The mystery was so compelling that at one point I wondered what, rather than who, the characters actually are.

The book ends with a bang that sums up the invasiveness of technology. In the end, like Eugene, we want nothing more than to get out. To find out the truth first, but ultimately to get out. This book is frighteningly plausible and will make you want to be out more and especially talk to people face-to-face and not take the risks of technology for granted. Live life with its emotional experiences outside instead of completely locking yourself in the ivory tower pretending it’s a utopia. Get rid of defences and move on even if it means leaving yourself open to whatever comes (to me this is literally represented in the book by brick walls and breaking them). Technology has many benefits, but relying on it too much and letting corporations spoon feed it can lead to more problems than good. I really like how the author used the Covid pandemic experience and turned it into a creative exploration of the situation with a sci-fi twist. It’s a combination that works really well for me. It’s relatable because we have been there and because the technological part is actually a possibility in this day and age. It makes the story and ideas that much stronger. Stepping outside in this book really feels like freedom, with a renewed sense of appreciation of it.

As for me, I have noticed that I am far less reluctant to go to social events after sitting at home for almost three months – I just excuse myself when I get tired instead of not going out at all. There’s something to be said about balance in life.

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