Elysia is a clone, awakened fully formed at the physical age of sixteen, one of the first in an experimental new line of teen assistants and companions for the ultra-rich inhabitants of the exclusive tropical paradise, Demesne. Like the rest of the clones who provide the necessary labor on Demesne, Elysia is implanted with the necessary information to do her job and imitate humans enough to make them feel comfortable. She’s not supposed to be capable of genuine emotion. But something has gone wrong.
If you’re on the market for your next book boyfriend, or if you’re a guy who’s willing to give YA literature a sporting chance to provide male characters worth identifying with (in which case I’d like to shake your hand), for the love of god, look elsewhere. All the male characters in Beta are absolutely reprehensible.
At least most of them are obviously supposed to be, being part of the clone-oppressing status-quo, but even the main love interest is just… just awful, even when not afflicted by the in-universe condition of the same name. Oh, he’s supposed to be a “scoundrel,” we know this because we’re told so on multiple occasions, but he’s a scoundrel who (spoiler-light version) is suffering from brain damage, which has sapped all the personality out of him, so any appealing characteristics that can be associated with the word are absent, and whenever he can even work up enough energy to properly be a dick, it’s framed as a wonderful sign of recovery.
Elysia falls instantly in love with him on appearance and reputation alone (his reputation for being a scoundrel), decides she will be the one to change him (seriously), and remains convinced of this after even she has to admit that he’s not only emotionally unavailable but boring and thoroughly lacking in charisma. They have a very brief courtship, which he more or less admits to faking, but by the end she’s still determined to be with him and save him from all the bad things in the world. There’s no satisfactory resolution, no adequate demonstration of why he’s worth her time, or confirmation that he isn’t and that her infatuation with him is some tragic result of clone naiveté.
Then there are details of the world that severely strain suspension of disbelief. Specially programmed clones are sold to the ultra-rich and treated as property but aren’t quite as soulless as the humans want to think? Great. They have tracking chips and limited lifespans and other failsafes to keep them in line? Of course. But there are a few of those extra failsafes which (restraining spoilers here), while creepy and horrible from the clones’ perspective, make a brain-meltingly nonexistent amount of business sense. Not even evil business sense.
It should be noted that there are more books to come in the series, which may or may not clear up some of the more confusing issues, but as the book stands, most of its essential parts are baffling at best.
The universe is beautifully and vividly described. Demesne is one of those fictional places so real and immersive you can almost smell it. Its isolation and the powerlessness of Elysia’s situation give the whole book a pervasive, sinister creepiness that keeps the pages turning in spite of the glaring problems. With the exception of her taste in men, Elysia is easy enough to feel for, and her confused, blundering, but determined progress from good clone to rebel makes a strong, if sometimes overplayed, allegory for adolescence.