The story is told in the alternate voices of Zhara and Elysia. The novel opens with a prologue which sets the stage for what happens in the novel. Zhara and her friends, Reggie and Holly are on a sailboat headed to the forbidden island of Demesne, where only the richest people in the world live. Zhara and her friends are from Cerulea but as juvenile delinquents had been sent to a special wilderness rehabilitation camp; Holly for vandalizing a desalinization plant, Reggie for stealing a dune rider and Zhara for ataraxia "raxia" addiction. A day after arriving at the camp, Zhara steals a sailboat and they are now on their way to Demesne. However, a sudden violent storm strikes, the result of the special bioengineering that protects Demesne from bad weather. The storm throws the three teens into the water, but Zhara's training as an Olympic-level diver enables her to save herself. Their boat is found by pirates who deal in selling the bodies of twentysomethings to be cloned as slaves on Demesne. The pirates believe Zhara is dead because of the effect of the raxia on slowing her heartbeat. They take her because she is "tasty" or pretty enough but leave behind Holly and Reggie. Zhara awakens on Demesne to meet the Mortician, a tall Demesne clone.
From this point on the novel is narrated alternately by Zhara and Elysia. Zhara is now on an island the Defect clones call Heathen. She arrived several months ago after being taken to Demesne where she was brought back to life by the clone Mortician on the island, Aidan. The clones on Demesne tried raxia, the drug that Zhara was addicted to, and discovered that this "awakened" them - that is made them have feelings by unblocking the brain inhibitors they were designed with to make them slaves. These feeling clones were labelled Defects by the humans and were returned to the lab where Aidan worked, to be "expired" or killed. However, instead of destroying the Defects, Aidan was quietly sending the "Emergents" to Heathen. When Zhara arrived, Aidan tried reviving her using his newly developed electrical abilities. Unable to hide this new ability Aidan was forced to leave Demesne with Zhara.
On Heathen, Aidan has become the leader of the Emergents and Zhara is his platonic consort. He now plans to lead the clones to Insurrection, where they will retake Demesne as their island since it was built from the slave labour of the clones. Heathen is protected by the Emergents who controlled the beautiful weather on Demesne, now using their abilities to create a weather force field that prevents planes or boats from reaching the island.
Aidan had reassured Zhara that she was not cloned. However, Zhara learns that this is not true when they goes to meet the Uni-Mil soldier who is helping the Emergents. That soldier turns out to be her long lost lover, Alexander Blackburn, known as Xander. But Xander is not alone - he has with him the beautiful clone of Zhara, named Elysia.
Both Zhara and Elysia are shocked at the other's existence. Zhara is stunned to see Alexander's devotion to Elysia, assuming that they are lovers. However Alexander tells Zhara that Elysia's baby is not his. Elysia, while appreciating Alexander's devotion and protection of her, is in love with Tahir, another Beta, who has been taken away from Demesne. Elysia want the chance to be with Tahir again before the Awfuls, the crazy behaviour that precedes their programmed death at age eighteen or nineteen, occurs. Elysia hates the unborn baby she's carrying as a result of her rape by Ivan Fortesquieu, but the fact that she has become pregnant gives hope to the other Emergents that they may also be able to procreate. She is considered their hero and their new de facto leader, although she desires neither.
"I don't want to be the Emergents' hope. I want to be free of their struggles. I just want to be a regular girl, allowed to live in peace with the boy she loves. Tahir. Not Alexander Blackburn."Alexander reveals to Elysia that the notion that the Demesne clones do not have souls is a myth and that the new clones have their own souls but don't know it because Dr. Lusardi "developed brain inhibitors to block the clone's feelings." She insisted that this remain a secret so as to be able to sell them to buyers on Demesne.
Due to the stress of meeting her clone, Zhara relapses into her raxia addiction causing Aidan to order all the cuvee fields on the island destroyed. Aidan tells her she must focus on Insurrection which must go ahead as soon as possible. Zhara reveals through a flashback how devastated she is that Alexander is now focused on Elysia. Zhara seduced Alexander on Cerulea because she knew that as an Aquine, if he mated with her it would be for life and this would make her his mate. However, Alexander refused her request to join him when he left for Uni-Mil training, resulting in their break up.
Tawny, who was the Demesne Governor's luxissant arrives on Heathen informing the Emergents that ReplicaPharma who make adult clones have been brought in to oversee the problems on Demesne. Aidan believes that ReplicaPharma will likely replace the Demesne clones with their own clones. Meanwhile the rich families on Demesne are exporting their clones to show them off and or selling them to collectors. Because of a global financial crisis, the Governor expects most of the families on Demesne will leave the island and vote to sell it to ReplicaPharma. In light of this information, Aidan wants to start the Insurrection immediately but on the advice of Alexander, Elysia chooses to wait.
Over the next few days, while the Emergents continue to develop their abilities to control the weather and to initiate earthquakes that will be used to retake Demesne, Zhara and Elysia come to know and understand each other a bit better.
Before the Emergents can launch the Insurrection, Heathen is invaded by the ReplicaPharma soldiers who are androids. Dimitri Kelos a vice president of ReplicaPharma informs them that because Demesne has been sold, the clones, including the Emergent ones, are now the property of the company. The Demesne clones will be allowed to live out their remaining time on the island, confined to labour camps. Those clones who did not participate in the uprising will be reprogrammed to stop feeling and will serve the ReplicaPharma personnel who now live on the island. Dr. Lusardi, a clone herself has been expired and Aidan is to be taken and experimented on to learn about his unusual abilities. Unable to fight back Alexander, Zhara and Elysia are taken back to Demesne, while Aidan with his special powers is taken prisoner. Can Elysia and Alexander still launch the Insurrection and save the remaining clones on Demesne?
Emergent is not as captivating a story as its predecessor, Beta which had an intriguing storyline. It focuses mainly on the relationships between Zhara, Elysia and Alexander and later on Tahir. Cohn does an excellent job of capturing the horror Zhara feels when she discovers she has been cloned against her will and in portraying the emotional conflict between Zhara and Elysia. The emotional conflict seems mostly one sided, at least it is more readily apparent from Zhara's narrative. Zhara is shocked to discover that she has been lied to and that she was cloned without her permission, against her will or knowledge, while Elysia is trying to cope with her anger over her violation and her loss of Tahir.
Zhara is "Exhausted. Confused. Horrified." But this is only the beginning as she soon discovers other disquieting things about her clone. Zhara is disturbed to learn that Elysia has memories of Xander and feels this is "an off-the-charts intrusion into my mind, body, and soul." She resents Elysia being able to perform difficult dives that Zhara took years to learn and perfect. To Zhara, "Elysia will never be my forever, no matter how much she looks and acts like me. I reject her. I refuse her. I may have to live in proximity to her for the time being, but I will never, ever accept her. She stole me."
When Zhara learns that Elysia was raped by the son of the Governor of Demesne she feels that "...Elysia is that sister I used to long for. I want to touch her hand, hold her close to me, to comfort her, to promise her vengeance. I don't. But I want to." Yet Zhara is disturbed that her clone was treated as property. "She was his property. Fact. Another version of my face, my body -- given no rights or choice, created to serve and have no wants or desires of her own -- there for him to take, just because he wanted to."
Yet despite this, Zhara begins to understand that her "clone has suffered more in the few months she lived on Demesne than I have in my entire seventeen years. I grieve for her as much as I resent her."
The biggest weakness of this novel is motivation behind ReplicaPharma keeping two other surviving Beta clones, Tasmin and Tarquin prisoners. Their presence serves as a plot device to tidily wind up this installment of the series. The story evolves such that when Zhara and Elysia are taken to Demesne, they learn from Tahir who has returned with his parents to the island, about two Betas who are kept in a lab as they expire or go "Awful". When the three of them go to see the two Betas they learn from Tarquin that they are part of a medical experiment to use their raging hormones to create a vaccine to be given to teens around the world to prevent them from experiencing irresponsible behaviours and being awful. It's the silliest plot development imaginable and the impetus that finally unites Zhara and Elysia against the adults to overthrow Demesne and destroy the samples. Tahir and Elysia leave the island while Zhara stays with the clone she loves, Aidan, promising to care for Elysia's daughter, Xanthe.
The cover of the first novel, Beta, has been redone to match that of the second novel. These new covers are unappealing with the photoshopped figures looking tacky and out of place.
Goodreads indicates that there are two more novels in the Annex series but there's scant information on Cohn's website. I will be interested to see where Cohn takes her story; the likely focus now seems on saving Tahir and Elysia from the Awfuls and perhaps developing the storyline involving Elysia's daughter, Xanthe.
Cohn is a well known young adult author whose books, Very LeFreak, Pop Princess and You Know Where to Find Me are popular. She has also co-authored three novels with David Levithan.
Emergent by Rachel Cohn
New York: Hyperion, an imprint of the Disney Book Group 2014