15 October 2019

Synapse | Book Review + Guest Post


Thirty years in the future, when AI is so advanced that humans live side by side with cognizant robots called Artificials, Kestrel Hathaway must come to terms not just with what machines know, but what they believe. Is hope real for them, or merely an illusion?

Soon after experiencing a personal tragedy, Kestrel witnesses a terrorist attack and is drawn into a world of conspiracies and lies that she and Jordan, her Artificial, have to untangle. With a second, more brutal attack looming on the horizon, their best chance of stopping it is teaming up with federal counterterrorism agent Nick Vernon.

But the clock is ticking—and all the while, Jordan is asking questions that Artificials were never meant to ask.

Deftly weaving suspense and intrigue into a rich, resonant tale that explores faith and what it really means to be human, Steven James offers us a glimpse into the future and into our own hearts.

Synapse is an unforgettable, gripping story of dreams shattered, truth revealed, and hope reborn.

Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Release Date: October 8, 2019


Before Synapse, I had only read a couple books by Steven James (The Pawn and The Rook), but those two books gave me high expectations of his latest thriller. Unfortunately, I may have set my expectations too high.

Synapse begins as Kestrel Hathaway gives birth to her daughter—and must begin mourning almost instantly. In the wake of her loss, she encounters a terrorist attack, receives an Artificial, Jordan, as a gift from her brother, and becomes drawn into an investigation enmeshed in the technology and politics of her present. 

Now, this setup has all the elements to create an intriguing futuristic thriller—but it failed to keep me intrigued, actually. As a pastor, Kestrel naturally has thoughts and conversations regarding both God’s role in human suffering and His relationship with human-like AI, all of which proved entirely thought-provoking. However, amidst these (extensive) moments of spiritual contemplation, the story becomes a little lost and does not feel developed enough to live up to the suspense and thrill I anticipated. There is just too much Synapse tries to deliver, I think. As the pages flew by, I found myself far more interested in the relationship between Kestrel and Jordan, that reconciliation of faith and his manufactured being, than anything else in the story. 

Still, Synapse has received some glowing reviews from readers who enjoyed it far more than I did. If it piques your interest, it could be a great read for you.

I received a complimentary copy of this book and the opportunity to provide an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review, and all the opinions I have expressed are my own.


Steven James is the critically acclaimed, national bestselling author of sixteen novels. His work has been optioned by ABC Studios and praised by Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, the New York Journal of Books, and many others. His pulse-pounding, award-winning thrillers are known for their intricate storylines and insightful explorations of good and evil. When he’s not working on his next book, he’s either teaching master classes on writing throughout the country, trail running, or sneaking off to catch a matinee.


“James is a pro at creating suspense.”
-Criminal Element

“stimulating tale…thrilling story of greed and corruption”
-Publishers Weekly STARRED review

Read my op-ed on robots and faith in the New York Times.

I grew up reading and loving science fiction stories. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of artificial intelligence, but as I’ve thought about it over the years, I’ve realized that our lives are not based just on what we know, but also what we believe. So, I started asking myself, “What would the world look like if machines developed artificial belief?” Within a few decades, advanced AIs might very well have consciousness and self-awareness. At that point, what will they choose to believe about the meaning of live, God, and the afterlife?

All of these questions were in my mind as I wrote Synapse, a story that takes place 30 years from now in a world very much like our own. This is a cautionary tale with implications that are both chilling and revealing and I think that if you like suspense, you’ll love this near-future thriller.



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