The Bottom Line: YA sci fi fans should flock to this ingenious tale of reincarnated teenagers vying for control of their world. Highly recommended.
Told from the point of view of a 17-year-old computer geek, Zelly, Oversight begins with one of the more provocative statements in recent memory: “Ying wants me dead before I turn nineteen.” Zelly and Ying attend “bootcamp” together, a sort of preparatory school for members of Soul Identity, an ancient organization that ensures its members are healthy and wealthy as they’re reincarnated countless times.
Speaking of which, both teens – and a third, Simon – are reincarnated leaders of the group, essentially royalty. Despite the physical age of their bodies, they are, literally and figuratively, “old souls.” And why is nineteen such a “drop dead” birthday? Because that’s the age when each of the three are eligible to become an “overseer,” which gives them the power to run the world’s oldest bank, with funds intended to bankroll Soul Identity members across future reincarnations.
Author Dennis Batchelder has devised an ingenious power struggle within a fascinating organization. Along with the trio at bootcamp is Val, the group’s teacher and the organization’s “CEO.” Also along for the ride are “visitors,” who apparently have no idea that the trio are their future overseers. The story takes place in West Seattle, but except for recognizable glimpses of the ordinary civilian population, it feels in every way like an alternate universe.
Fictional world-building can be a treacherous game. Most authors hopelessly disorient readers without blatantly ripping off classic sci-fi/fantasy concepts. But that’s not the case here, as Batchelder successfully conveys the alliances, fractures and rules of the Soul Identity universe early on, all within a captivating, seamless and compelling narrative. Best of all, this isn’t yet another dark dystopian universe. When it comes to fantasy worlds inhabited by fierce teenagers, the Oversight universe feels entirely fresh, and at times, even hopeful. Is Zelly a sympathetic character? In the early going, it’s easy to get behind her seemingly simple desire to live to see the age of nineteen. Soon, it’s clear this is about more than simple survival. No one can blame her for being ambitious, and the more time goes on, the clearer it is that she’s a teenager in body only, and that she’s actually quite well-suited to this peer vs peer war for world domination. To say more would spoil the fun, but thanks to some ingenious plotting on Batchelder’s part, Zelly’s moral compass is ultimately put to the test.
We should mention that Batchelder began publishing the related Soul Identity trilogy in the 2000s. With that said, Oversight can be easily enjoyed as a stand alone novel.