**4 Goodreads Stars**
After reading Ezekiel Boone’s The Mansion, I don’t think I will ever, ever, EVER purchase an Alexa for my house! When I read about this book on a friend’s Instagram feed, I immediately knew I needed a copy of it. Who wouldn’t love a book that involves a love triangle, a haunted mansion, and artificial intelligence? If that sounds like a lot of themes to tackle in one book, yes, you are probably right. However, somehow Boone makes it work for the most part.
The book’s central three characters are Billy, Shawn, and Erica. Shawn and Bill meet in college and become quick friends over their love of technology and coding. They set out to build an expansive artificial intelligence (AI) named “Nellie,” devoting two whole years to making their dream a reality. To make it happen, they move out to a remote, dilapidated cabin on Shawn’s family’s property. The cabin is barely inhabitable, but they sacrifice comfort for the promise of wealth and Silicon Valley fame.
Emily is the girl in between the two men. She fell in love with Shawn while in college, eventually dropping out to help support Shawn in his pursuit of developing a revolutionary AI. She ends up living with Shawn and Billy in the cabin, cooking, cleaning, and tending to their needs as they throw themselves headfirst into coding Nellie. Unfortunately, things fall apart, and Emily ends up leaving Shawn for Billy. The project falls into despair, and the three don’t see each other until nearly a decade later.
Flash forward to the present. Shawn is now a tech billionaire who, despite all his riches and fame, has yet to finish Nellie. Billy and Emily, who are now married, are broke and barely making ends meet. Shawn, who still is bitter that Emily left him for Billy, knows that the only way he can make Nellie come to life is to hire Billy. Shawn takes a risk and hires Billy to return to Nellie, which Shawn began to install at his family’s historic mansion. Billy reluctantly accepts the challenge because he and Emily are nearly bankrupt and need the money. Shawn promises them the world if Billy can make Nellie work, so Emily and Billy move into the creepy mansion in hopes of a second chance at life.
My main critique of this book is that the characters’ backstories took up most of the book (60%). The readers really didn’t get to the gory, scary AI mansion stuff until the last 40% of the book. In fact, I would have probably read another 100 or so pages if the book included more about the mansion. Nonetheless, I kept reading because I was really into the characters and their motivations for returning to Nellie. The characters share really dark, depressing histories, which cloud their judgments and cause them to make poor decisions while trying to build Nellie. And if you’re trying to build an AI in a human’s image, do you really want these troubled young people creating Nellie?
Thank you to Ezekiel Boone, Atria Books/Simon & Schuster, and NetGalley for an advanced e-galley of The Mansion. This was the perfect spooky read for fall!