by Lisa Towles
Indies United Publishing House

"I guess I'm curious to see more than just five percent. I'm looking for the other ninety-five, and the door that might lead me there."

Suspense and technical jargon abound in this internet-age thriller. A recent transfer to the University of Chicago, Zak Skinner struggles to cope with sudden and painful life changes. Along with his protective and ever-reliable childhood friend Patrick Riley, Zak embarks on an exploration of college life that leads him unexpectedly from drug experimentation to the seedy underworld of the darknet and counterfeit pharmaceuticals. Zak stumbles upon an uncannily magical, self-writing notebook after a woefully misguided ayahuasca trip. Through the guidance of others, Zak discovers that this notebook, along with a collection of seemingly innocuous sales receipts, are bread crumbs left for the initiated. Zak follows the path down a rabbit hole leading to System D, a labyrinthine material iteration of the darknet. With his life in danger, Zak is determined to figure out who is behind System D and what their nefarious objectives may be.

The novel initially comes across as a teenage angst-driven narrative propelled by a post-adolescent quest for identity and enlightenment through drug experimentation. Towles creates an atmosphere that mimics a drug-induced state of euphoria and narcosis reminiscent of the style in Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The novel's punchy narration and pithy dialogue with short, staccato sentences effectively indicate lapses in time and muddled perceptions. As the reader joins Zak on his quest, the narrator's persistent questioning of his circumstances, perception, and the reasoning for his actions strongly hint at literary psychoanalysis. Without a clear resolution and denouement, one wonders if this could be the first in a series. The copious references to the Harry Potter series may appeal to younger readers. Fans of fast-paced yet introspective fiction may enjoy Towles' unique novel.

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