Before I begin this review, I should note that I am basing my observations on an advanced reader copy that I obtained from NetGalley. In light of this, I note that the quality of this copy may not match that of the final product that is now for sale on Amazon. Please bear that in mind as you read this review.

Elixir was first published in 2014 and is the debut novel of Ted Galdi. It is a thriller that follows a teenage genius as he does battle against corrupt officials within the US Government and a shady pharmaceutical company.

Life for Sean Malone has never been normal. Blessed (or cursed) with an IQ of 250, he gained national fame when he was 11 years old by winning over a million dollars on Jeopardy. His success netted him a place at a top college when he was only 14 and it was while studying here that he managed to crack a supposedly impossible mathematical puzzle.

The implications of his discovery create a problem for the NSA as knowledge of Sean’s algorithm would enable anything in the world to be hacked. Manipulating Sean’s code, they test it during a sting operation against a drug lord and kill off innocent bystanders in the process. When he is almost driven insane by the guilt, sympathetic agents within the DEA and FBI help him to be build a new life and identity for himself in Rome.

Four years later, Sean (now known as James Crates) is living a happy life as a graffiti artist and has just met Natasha, the girl of his dreams. However, tragedy soon strikes. On a trip to Africa, Natasha contracts the most deadly strain of the Ebola virus. Knowing that she will more than likely die within a couple of weeks, Sam is forced to return to America in order to find her a cure. However, every step he takes puts him in more danger. His research puts him at risk from both a private pharmaceutical company and those who forced him into hiding at the first place. With Natasha growing weaker every day, he must face these challenges head on if he wants to save her life.

Elixir is one of those stories that, if you can completely suspend your disbelief, actually does make an acceptable thriller. With the exception of a small lull when Sean first gets to Italy, it’s fast paced and contains some surprisingly intense sequences, particularly the chase between Sean and Dante, the bounty hunter sent that the pharmaceutical company send to apprehend him. While exciting, the action in the story always manages to be believable. There are no stunts or feats of daring that would be impossible for an ordinary eighteen year old to perform and the constant ticking clock of Natasha’s illness adds urgency to his mission, as a second wasted could prove fatal for her.

However, as I said, to get this much enjoyment from the novel you really do have to forget everything that you know about science. Personally, I have no background in science (my degree, as I’ve probably mentioned before, is in English Literature and Philosophy) and yet even I could see that some of the things that Sean was coming up with were utter baloney. The Ebola cure that he is trying to create is repeatedly called a vaccine, yet it is not in any way. Firstly, a vaccine is usually created from a weakened strain of the disease or its related toxins yet Sean’s is created entirely from lab chemicals. Secondly, a vaccine is a preventative measure and so would not to be used on someone who had already contracted the virus and thus was days from death.

If I can pick such faults with the basic premise of the story, I dread to think how badly pulled apart it could be by someone with some competence in this field. I did try to run some of the computer science mentioned past Nick, as this is his forte, and he reported finding some similar fatal flaws in that (though I admit that I don’t fully understand them). I am a fan of fantasy stories and thus am perfectly capable of suspending my disbelief to enjoy a story. I struggle to do so when reading stories that are so firmly rooted in real life. Ebola is a very topical issue at the moment. With the outbreak in Africa, the papers are full of in depth description of the disease. Because it’s a real disease that everyone in the world is currently painfully aware of, inaccuracies in the way it is portrayed in the novel are glaringly obvious. While cancer in The Fault in our Stars was portrayed warts and all, Ebola in Elixir seems to be based on the illness to a point but made fictitious by the fact that Natasha’s doctor believes she caught it by brushing against a dead chimp and that it will eventually liquefy her internal organs.

The charactisation within the story was also somewhat lacking. The only person of note in the story was really Sean, as most of the background characters had little to do within the tale (Natasha was hospitalised for 50% of the story and Aunt Mary kept escaping mention for large patches of the story). While Sean’s actions within the story were undoubtedly heroic, I just did not ever really felt like I liked him.

This was, in part, due to his intellect. Galdi uses “genius” as an excuse for Sean to be able to do anything technical within the story. He cracks the Travelling Salesman problem without having to do any research and creates an instant panacea for all virus despite having no background in virology. Maybe it’s just because I don’t have an IQ of 250 that I’m missing something here but my understanding is that just having a high IQ does not mean that you know everything. Stephen Hawking, with an IQ of 160, did not simply pluck his singularity theorem out of thin air without having any background knowledge of cosmology.

Beyond this absurd degree of intelligence, there just wasn’t much to Sean’s character at all. His relationship with his Aunt faded to the background as soon as the story moved to Rome and his relationship with Natasha was rushed, flipping rapidly from their first meeting to months later in order to get to the Ebola plot. Because of this, I just could not bring myself to care about his situation. It was a boy who seemed lacking in personality (other than his genius) fighting to save a girl I barely knew. Although I could see where the story was attempting to hook the reader, I just did not feel enough of a connection in order to empathise with them.

So, to conclude, Elixir is a story with many problems. Although it tries to root itself in reality, it did not feel as though it had been thoroughly researched enough to present its themes in a believable way. The primary cast also felt a little flat and underdeveloped, which caused me some trouble in empathising with them. However, the overall story is still fast paced and rather exciting and so you might get a kick out of it if you are able to suspend your disbelief.

Elixir can be purchased as an eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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