Master Class: ARC Review

Master Class is dark, provoking, and an absolute must read.
Rating: 4.5 Stars

This review original appeared on Thank you to Nerd Daily and the publisher for providing me a copy of this ARC for review. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are completely my own and not influenced in any way.

Master Class
Christina Dalcher
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: April 21, 2020
Synopsis: Every child’s potential is regularly determined by a standardized measurement: their quotient (Q). Score high enough, and attend a top tier school with a golden future. Score too low, and it’s off to a federal boarding school with limited prospects afterwards. The purpose? An improved society where education costs drop, teachers focus on the more promising students, and parents are happy.

Elena Fairchild is a teacher at one of the state’s elite schools. When her nine-year-old daughter bombs a monthly test and her Q score drops to a disastrously low level, she is immediately forced to leave her top school for a federal institution hundreds of miles away. As a teacher, Elena thought she understood the tiered educational system, but as a mother whose child is now gone, Elena’s perspective is changed forever. She just wants her daughter back.

And she will do the unthinkable to make it happen.

Nothing can really prepare you for the experience of reading Master Class by Christina Dalcher. Much like slowly boiling a frog alive, as the saying goes, Christina Dalcher slowly turns up the tension and dread, degree by degree, until you are left gasping for breath and burning with emotions. Though emotionally difficult to read at times, Master Class is a phenomenal story of what a mother will do for her child and the ability of humanity to forget and repeat its horrific mistakes.

In a future that could very well become our own, constant standardised testing of children and adults determines their quotient (Q). Those with high Q scores get better education, jobs, and resources, while those with substandard scores get federal boarding schools, menial jobs, and bottom of the barrel resources. Elena Fairchild is a teacher at one of the elite schools, wife to the man who brought the Q system to the nation, and mother to two daughters. When her youngest daughter fails the monthly test and is sent away to one of the federal schools, Elena fights to find a way to bring her daughter back home. At any cost.

What stands out most about Master Class is the slowly dawning horror as you read, that this could one day be our reality. Eugenics is nothing new, but to many, it is something that happened elsewhere. However, as Dalcher points out in the Author’s Notes, the historical events mentioned throughout the story are real and they include the American eugenics movement that we as a nation have seemed to have forgotten. Dalcher masterfully weaves this buried history with the state of society today and gives the reader a frightening glimpse into what happens when we forget our own history.

Elena Fairchild is a complex main character that is slowly built throughout the course of the story. The reader is given new insight and knowledge of Elena up until, quite literally, the last page. While stories that go back and forth in time can sometimes be choppy, Dalcher transitions smoothly between times and every look into the past has a purpose. Seeing Elena’s past and how it slowly morphed into her current horror is a timely and intriguing look into how we can let prejudice and the fear of not being good enough mould our world.

This story has a lot to say, but its main focus is always on Elena. This leaves us with very two dimensional secondary characters. Their two dimensions are well written, but they lack the depth needed to really care about them. Freddie Fairchild, Elena’s youngest daughter that is sent away, is a nine-year-old who suffers from acute anxiety. That should pull on all the heartstrings…but it doesn’t. Malcolm Fairchild, Elena’s husband, is a despicable human who I wanted to punch through the whole story…but I never knew why he was the way he was. Having a bit more depth into other characters would have benefited the story, but it didn’t detract from the overall suspense of the novel.

Speaking of suspense, Master Class has it in spades. But it’s a quiet, haunting kind of suspense. The kind where you just feel something is wrong the whole time, but you don’t know just how bad it is until it is too late. Then everything is awful and enthralling and you just can’t stop reading. The whole time I was reading this novel, one word kept coming to mind: insidious. The slow, subtle changes that creep into our society that have beyond harmful effects. The way the storytelling of Master Class mirrors those kinds of changes is nothing short of perfection.

Master Class is dark, provoking, and an absolute must read. Dalcher has proven herself a master author of insidious suspense that feels oh so real and will stick with you long after you’ve closed the book. And for those who scoff, and proclaim this story is just fiction and could never happen to them, I leave you with this quote from the novel: “It started with fear, and it ended with laws.”

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