• S.C. Jensen

Indie Feature Friday – Cyberpunk Book Review: Heart Threaded by James L. Graetz

Look at this! A heart-themed cyberpunk book just in time for valentines day.

If “love” isn’t a theme that immediately pops into your head when you think of the cyberpunk genre, you’re not alone.

But author James L. Graetz manages to pull it off with this retelling of the classic tragic tale, Romeo and Juliet.

Shakespearean cyberpunk?

It gets curiouser and curiouser… Heart Threaded is an indie debut you won’t want to miss!

Heart Threaded by James L. Graetz

The Blurb

How many heartbeats would you swap for upgrades that will give you a longer more empowered life?

How many heartbeats would you swap to cure your deadly illness?

Heartbeats are currency and high tech implants can extend your life. But the price is future heartbeats. Juliet, discovers that Romeo can hack heartbeat debts and set you free.

Juliet’s father runs the city selling high tech upgrades for heartbeats. Juliet goes behind her fathers back to see Romeo about a multiple lifetime heartbeat debt.

Romeo offers to help Juliet. Juliet sets his world on fire, literally.

He will never be the same. Juliet must decide between her loyalty to her father and helping Romeo hack the new tech of the Heart Threads.

They are on a collision course of adventure, dragging in their friends, Tarx and Sura, together they may spark a revolution in a dystopian world.

A fast paced Romeo & Juliet story theme in a dystopian cyberpunk world.

No matter how many heartbeats, you only have one death.

My Review

I must admit the idea of a cyberpunk retelling of Shakespeare’s famously tragic love story tickles my little Lit-majoring heart. Mismatched genre/story mashups are one of my favourite things ever, and Graetz does not disappoint.

Though Heart Threaded is only loosely based on the plot of Romeo and Juliet, the themes that run throughout the story more than justify the use of the star-crossed lovers names. Graetz’s story completely stands on its own, and some might say it wasn’t necessary to name the main characters after Romeo and Juliet, but I actually found that this little detail really added something to the story for me and I’m glad he made this choice.

To be honest, I wouldn’t have probably been inclined to pick up a cyberpunk love story on its own.

But a cyberpunk love story that I am pretty sure will end tragically??

Yeah, okay, sign me up.

In Heart Threaded, the rift between Romeo and Juliet’s world is less about family feuds (though there is a bit of that) and more about class.

Juliet is the heir to the largest and most powerful corporation in the city, called Mux Corporation, which is responsible for a new technological upgrade which gives the wearer an indefinitely extended life… in exchange for future heartbeats. It’s a wonderfully sinister take on indentured servituded, and a strong warning against indebting oneself for the sake of the the latest and greatest techno-toy.

Romeo is a hacker, famed in the underground for his ability to eliminate people’s heart-debts. But when Mux Corporation upgrades the old heart stones to the new, unhackable heart threads, Romeo finds himself in a tough position.

Because Juliet seeks him out to help save someone dear to her, and when they meet, worlds collide.

What follows is a fast-paced and heart-wrenching tale of sabotage, treachery, and violence from both Juliet’s power hungry father and the rage-filled disenfranchised inhabitants of the undercity.

Both Romeo and Juliet are eminently likeable protagonists, and I was rooting for them the entire time (although I knew it couldn’t end in roses for them) which helped add to the tension.

Graetz use of theme was very strong in this novel, and he handled the “retelling” very well. But my absolute favourite part of this story is the undercity and his descriptions of the way the two classes of citizens live. This is cyberpunk at its rawest and most gritty, and it made a fantastic background to what might have been too-sweet a tale.

Author C.T. Phipps has said he’d love to see a sequel to this fantastic debut and I’m with him.

Romeo and Juliet’s story might be over by the end, but there’s a whole new story brewing for what they leave behind.

This is a great debut, and would be a wonderful way for people new to cyberpunk or new to indie books to dip their toes into the waters.

You can also check out James L. Graetz’s short stories in the Neo Cyberpunk and Neo Cyberpunk Vol. 2 anthologies. (I’ve got a story in Vol. 2 too!)


Have you read any great retellings lately?

My own HoloCity Case Files series is based on loose retellings of Raymond Chandler’s short stories.

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