Adam Bassett’s A Package of Moods is a speculative fiction novel set in a future where a pharmaceutical company has distilled moods into a nicotine patch-like form. Through a series of chapters, each focusing on a new character, Bassett’s novel explores various individuals’ lives and how they intertwine and are impacted by the new mood drugs.
I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
The novel was an easy read, with prose that flowed and was rarely interrupted with any awkward phrasing. Bassett’s writing style has a few moments where it shines. A character’s hesitancy to try the mood altering drugs and his transition to acceptance was encapsulated in “Aidan remained hesitant until the night after Christina broke up with him. He fell into a bottle of rum and awoke with a war in his head and Happy on his neck.” Another character’s description stuck out with the succinct lines “death would be hard for Colby to come by. He always buckled his seatbelt.”
I wanted to like A Package of Moods—the premise was intriguing and borderline dystopian—but it never quite delivered for me. I feel a glaring issue is that the novel attempts to cover more characters and ground than its short length lends itself to. There are 11 chapters, including the epitaph, and each chapter of the novel focuses on a new character and their story. All the characters are connected in one way or another—a nurse from early in the book appears at the end briefly to care for another sick character, the owner of the coffee shop where one character works appears later as the wife of another character, etc.—and the main character of one chapter becomes a background character in another (or disappears entirely). This results in a very surface-level feeling to the story. Other books have demonstrated that it is possible to have a large cast of characters and tell the story from different perspectives—the wildly popular series A Song of Ice and Fire (adapted for televison as A Game of Thrones) is an obvious example—but the length of the book must allow time to develop such a large cast and give the reader enough time with the characters. A Package of Moods, being a bit over 50k words in length, just does not have the time to develop the characters and connections it introduces.
Because of the brief time spent with each character, as the reader I was not emotionally drawn in to the characters’ lives and struggles. It felt like speed-dating, with only enough time given to decide whether or not I had a good first impression of the character before I was whisked to the next. I found most of the characters unlikable, with the most sympathetic being Sara, the subject of the first chapter. But, as A Package of Moods unfolded, any character I grew to like disappeared to be replaced by others. Additionally, there is no clear progression to the novel, no real overarching plot. It is not a story unfolding, but captured moments here and there. While events from one chapter are referenced in the next, they often do not matter. A Package of Moods sometimes feels more like a collection of vignettes than a novel. The moment in which I felt most drawn into the story, when the most exciting events were unfolding, was in the epitaph, and then the novel ended and I was left feeling unsatisfied.
Another aspect of A Package of Moods I struggled with is due to the worldbuilding of the novel. The depiction of this alternate Earth is that, though these mood altering drugs haven’t been around for very long, almost all individuals seem accept and use the drugs. While I could believe this, the issue with the world Bassett depicts is that individuals are not just using the mood drugs recreationally. Rather, almost every character depicted uses the drugs extensively in many aspects of their lives. The moment that shattered my suspension of disbelief was when Jewel, a character who is a nurse, uses the drug Alert (a kind of stimulant mood) to function during her long shift. This seems equivalent to real nurses showing up to a shift using Ritalin without a prescription. Yet, in A Package of Moods there seemed to be no consequences or even alarm at this behavior. The other nurses notice, but no one disapproves beyond a little half-hearted tsking. In fact, other nurses also use mood patches during their shifts.
The most unbelievable moment came later in the novel: when a patient sees Jewel wearing a mood patch, he is not at all disturbed by it, or does not even think of reporting her for using drugs on the job. As much as I could imagine these drugs coming to have an accepted place for recreational use, unless society drastically changed they would never be accepted in most professional settings, especially a medical setting where patient care is paramount. Jewel even collapses during her shift, presumably from the drug’s effects combined with exhaustion, and is unable to help care for a patient during an emergency. Then, though another senior nurse knows the collapse is due to to the drug, she covers for Jewel instead of reporting her. While this event demonstrates one of the issues with the mood patches and how they are being used, it does not feel realistic, and the characters and storyline do not explore the gravity of these implications.
The premise of A Package of Moods can be related to the classic Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, a comparison I think Bassett was expecting by the fact that a Mrs. Huxley briefly appears early on in the novel in a seeming acknowledgment. But while Huxley’s Brave New World introduces a character unfamiliar with the culture of the mood-altering drug, soma, and through this explores the issues of soma from an outside perspective, Bassett does not include an outside perspective. All of the main characters use the mood patches or find them acceptable for others to use, providing really only one point of view. Even some side characters who voice reservations about the use of the drugs within the world of A Package of Moods later use the drugs when the pressures of their life prove too much. The most negative perspective is given in the first chapter when Sara’s terminally ill mother refuses to take the drug Happy to ease her pain. But since the characters are transitory, this perspective quickly disappears. While I believe Bassett made this decision in order to comment on a perception that individuals in Western society are more and more dependent on drugs and that pharmaceutical companies are more than willing to foster this dependence, A Package of Moods would have benefited from some more time spent with characters whose perspectives differ from the majority’s.
Overall, A Package of Moods is a decent debut novel. But while Bassett’s writing shows promise, there is a missing depth to A Package of Moods, resulting in a novel that does not create the immersive experience I look for as a reader.
Final verdict: ✮✮✮✰✰