Hello, it's been months! I'm hoping to write a few sentences about every book I read this year.


Skid Road: On the Frontier of Health and Homelessness in an American City by Josephine Ensign

A top-notch, highly focused history of homelessness in Seattle. It touches on mental health management, hospital systems, county politics... It's less interested in housing policy, more in health and community elements. Even though it's specific to Seattle, it's a relevant read for anyone in the U.S. seeking to learn more about the public (state and civic) perspectives and policies that developed into our contemporary housing crisis.

Elite Capture: How the Powerful Took Over Identity Politics by Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò

A powerful piece of philosophical and political theory, with some historical grounding. I think I was expecting more history out of this one, and I'm still curious in a more detailed history of how conversations around identity politics shifted over time. That said, anyone who's engaging with identity politics, discourse about identity politics, etc, would find this interesting and relevant.

Corrections in Ink by Keri Blakinger

Really interesting memoir from a prison reporter about her own time in prison for drug-related charges. Also deals with disordered eating and high school ballet trauma. Recommend listening to the author-narrated audiobook, if you're into audiobooks.

Lust & Wonder by Augusten Burroughs

This is a hysterical memoir about alcoholism, love, the publishing industry, and some perhaps ill-advised mixing between all those. Definitely going to listen to more self-read memoirs from this author.

The Deviant's War: The Homosexual vs the USA by Eric Cervini

The actual history here — of early gay rights organizing, including a lot on the Mattachine Society — is very interesting. Unfortunately, the book itself is wanderingly structured, a little dry, and somewhat hard to follow from chapter to chapter. Fairly standard for a big general history, but not my favorite format of historical writing.

My Name's Yours, What's Alaska? by Alaska Thunderfuck 5000

Truly, Alaska reading the entire audiobook in drag voice made this. The memoir itself is on the low end of quality for celebrity memoirs. It also felt a bit like her PR team instructed her to write the whole thing to get ahead of and apologize for the various public controversies she's been involved in. There's a fantastic interview at the end worth checking out.

Queer Data: Using Gender, Sex and Sexuality Data for Action by Kevin Guyan

Great research on existing gender & sexuality data, plus some provocative discussion on what/why/how to collect and use said data. Appreciated the extra attention to questions like, “do we actually need this at all?” and “if we collect this but don't use it, is that in itself a problem?” Essential read for anyone in research, social work, or journalism fields where data like this is relevant.


Nightwood by Djuna Barnes

Felt like reading a lesbian Aldous Huxley novel, for better or for worse. This is one of those “persisting queer classics.” I felt very interested while reading it, but now that I'm several weeks out, I don't remember much of anything about it.

Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield

To the butch phlebotomist who asked me what this book was about and got a horrendously incoherent answer: sorry, you were very handsome and about to stab me with a needle.

Anyway, lesbian horror novel about a couple dealing with one of the partners' strange transformation after getting trapped in a submarine at the bottom of the ocean. Eerie, claustrophobic, perfectly executed. Loved it. One of the better horror novels I've read.

Leech by Hiron Ennes

One of the more experimental and daring books I've read from Tor, which often feels like its queer books don't take a lot of risks. Body horror, shifting POV, some truly creepy steampunk medical elements, a provocative and disturbing exploration of personhood and self-determination... I really enjoyed this.

novellas / short fic

Empire of the Feast by Bendi Barrett

Neon Hemlock once again with an absolutely rad little book. Trans space opera orgy magic? Ok, let's go. This felt very anime-inspired (in a good way) and exactly the sort of weird horny sci-fi I adore. Definitely checking out more of Barrett's work.

Chouette by Claire Oshetsky

File under “books I absolutely never would have read if not for three of my most trusted book recommenders loving it.” Weird little book about a woman who gives birth to an owl baby after a lesbian affair. The world is apparently mostly full of dog babies, so this is perturbing. Anyway, that's besides the point. It's billed as magical realism, but it feels much more like a horror novel. It depicts a woman trapped inside a horrible relationship, trying to protect herself and her nonconforming (via the metaphor... disabled? autistic? queer?) child from a gaslighting father who wants to bend her into normality.

Helen House by Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Okay, this is freaky discomfitting queer horror shot through with incestuous undertones. For anyone who ever watched one of those bad gay “meet the family coming out” romcoms and thought, “this is a horror movie, actually.” Don't want to say too much, but the vibes are creepy and the ending is chilling. Cool art, too.

Leather Blues: A Novel of Leather folk by Jack Fritscher

Pornographic gay coming of age novella about a young man leaving a small town to get connected with the leather scene. Very much a historical artifact, and a fun read.

Monk & Robot 1&2 by Becky Chambers

I found aspects of the worldbuilding extremely charming, but overall, I found the characters' arcs preachy and kindof annoying. It made a lot of sense to learn that the author is Californian, because this feels like an extended ad for some electric vehicle that no one can afford that's still somehow going to change the whole world.

A Tranquil Star by Primo Levi

I'd meant to read his nonfiction, but this collection ended up being interesting. Literary, political, and a bit playful, despite dealing often with fascism.


In general I'm not a poetry reviewer, but.

Your emergency contact has experienced an emergency by chen chen

This is very funny and irreverent and unless I'm mixing it up with something else, contains a poem about farts. It's also dealing with darker topics. Enjoyed it a lot.

Content Warning: Everything by Akwaeke Emezi

There are some real impactful lines in here and this is about as interesting of a collection as you'd expect from Emezi, who seems to release something masterful in a new medium & genre every 3 months.

the t4t project – issue one

A tiny little zine collection packed with poetry and visual art by tpoc creators. Very exciting to see this series happening. I'm excited for the next issue.


Twittering Birds Never Fly vols 6&7 by Kou Yoneda

This gay BDSM series rocks, and it feels like these volumes tip it past the endless back and forth of circular nothing that felt like it was starting to set in throughout the middle volumes. Things are done that can't be undone, the protagonists are separated in a manner that totally upends their power dynamics and connection, and a time skip brings all sorts of consequences.

The Titan's Bride vol 1&2 by ITKZ

This is not good, and idk what I was expecting. I did get vague enjoyment out of it, but it ended up in that manga place of “the character motives make no sense, and instead of just being silly, it got abruptly somewhat political but in a nonsensical and terrible way that makes the improbable character interactions even worse.”

Berserk Deluxe vols 2&3 by Kentaro Miura

Probably everything that can possibly be said about Berserk has already been said, but Gutsca rights etc etc. The 3rd vol contains a particularly good arc.

My Solo Exchange Diary vol1&2 by Nagata Kabi

These memoirs wobble between “excellent” and “maybe too depressing?” for me. This one was more in the middle, dealing with depression, alcoholism and other mental health topics, but not getting so explicitly into eating disorders. The author's troubled relationship with her family continues to be a tough in the series.

#y2023 #roundups #books

I'm a data journalist and media educator based in the Pacific Northwest. Follow what I'm reading live on Storygraph. You can subscribe to this blog via email or via the Fediverse Find me at @petrinkae on Twitter or on Mastodon.

After Picnic on Paradise, I wasn't convinced by Russ's fiction. (Though, her vaunted nonfiction collection How To Suppress Women's Writing was an excellent read.)

A friend convinced me to try again by loaning me We Who Are About To... and Souls, both later works of hers that veered away from “badass government agent” setup of Picnic (a premise that, though revelatory and subversive around its initial publication in 1968, when it ran counter to many pulp sci-fi tropes, was less interesting to me).

Who Who Are About To... in particular stood out as an attack on colonialism-in-space, survivalist narratives, and forced-birth premises. Though written from a different era, the book felt like an antidote to several recent popular sci-fi series I've read, where humans defeat the outside alien scourge or survive great odds thanks to the depth of the human spirit, so on and so on. When Russ's protagonists crashland, there's no “foreign space enemies” on the new planet, like in many space travel narratives — the travelers feel compelled to settle the planet regardless. With no hope of rescue, the group's leaders concoct an illogical plan to breed, despite having no survival skills, no ability to farm or hunt or build, and no real sense of reason or purpose for continuing to exist, beyond the thought that they probably ought to because that's what you do.

The book turns into an intense indictment of “survival at all costs” stories, as well as an attack on forced-birth, eugenicist, “survival of the species” narratives that pervade older sci-fi (and persist in subtler forms in modern franchises). Though the comparison to Lord of the Flies might be tempting, the book is less interested in mankind's reversion to its savage nature; it's more interested in questions about the cost (and value) of survival at all.

(Fascinatingly enough, Russ wrote the book as a direct response to Darkover Landfall, the Marion Zimmer Bradley novel infamously panned by Vonda M. McIntyre for being anti-feminist, pro-forced-brith, etc. Shoutout to Sandstone for bringing that to my attention — the back-and-forth between critics documented on the Fanlore wiki is fascinating.)

Souls, overall, was a lot less fascinating to me — although if you're a reader interested in 12th-century Viking conquests and weird metaphysical musings that mirror aliens, the Catholic church, and religious transcendence, this might be a novella for you.

#y2022 #books #scifi #adultfiction #sffclassics #essays

I'm a data journalist and media educator based in the Pacific Northwest. Follow what I'm reading live on Storygraph. You can subscribe to this blog via email or via the Fediverse Find me at @petrinkae on Twitter or on Mastodon.

just finished Davey Davis' X, which feels very much like an heir to Patrick Califia's lesser-read work (and only published novel, iirc) Doc and Fluff.

It's not that they're particularly similar. Beyond starring transmasculine protagonists who have a ton of BDSM sex, much of it well outside of SSC or RACK paradigms while navigating romantic relationships, sex work, and queer intracommunity conflict... they're pretty dissimilar in tone, politics, approach to character and relationship. I'm not sure I particularly enjoyed either, and I have thwarted feelings about where to place them on any objective rating scale.

But there's something to be said for the fact that there's not much out there like it: dystopias often focus on a promised hero (especially in the YA vein of Divergent/Hunger Games), or an everyday office schmuck (ah — Calvin Kasulke's several people are typing), or grizzled survivors (Walking Dead, various zombie comedies, Torrey Peters' infect your friends and loved ones). Not a lot start from the lives of people already on the outside of society structures, struggling to make rent & stay housed just on a normal day. People who just function under passively, banally evil bureaucracies in futuristic worlds that are near-identical to modern reality.

(the treatment of bureaucratic evil also feels in line with Bornstein/Sullivan's approach to nearly roadkill's fumbling internet regulators, although that book's world is certainly more fun and less graphically violent & dour than Califia or Davis.)

curious whether there's an entire genre of banal dystopias that I need to hunt down, or whether this is just a strange trans stub-genre that rears its head once a decade and disappears.

#y2022 #books #horror #dystopia #essays

I'm a data journalist and media educator based in the Pacific Northwest. Follow what I'm reading live on Storygraph. You can subscribe to this blog via email or via the Fediverse Find me at @petrinkae on Twitter or on Mastodon.

Catching up on the LaRocca craze, as I managed to entirely miss the hype (which I guess? occurred? via people on TikTok hating on things have gotten worse since we last spoke). Not sure how I missed it, as it's queer body horror that makes people mad. aka. my genre.

you've lost a lot of blood manages to meld two wildly different premises: the cold-blooded queer murderer, vis a vis Poppy Z Brite's exquisite corpse, and time loop/virtual reality shenanigans (Cronenberg –> eXistenZ?) through a nested novella. The murderer and his boyfriend argue about the nature of art & horror vs. exploitation (lol) while characters in the murderer's book have a very bad time running from horrific creatures while trapped in a madman's postmortem magnum opus. Also, poems are threaded in. There's a lot of philosophy and genre commentary packed in here, at times sarcastically so, and some of it is fun but some of it is just annoying. Still, the collection as a whole was fun, weird, creepy, etc. Never quite grabbed me at the character level, but consistently entertained at the conceptual one.

we can never leave this place landed less well for me. a tale of a girl living in sewage in a crumbling home that her mother refuses to abandon, even as war rages around them. after her father dies (while trying to abandon them), her mother takes in the malicious Rake, who promises to bring back the girl's father. Which is, of course, a trap. There's a lot going on in this one, nearly all allegorical, and for me there was just too much metaphor and not enough literal for everything to work for me. it's about grief & survival, but through the dark fairytale lens with indulgent prose and symbolic characters. eh.

bonus: interesting brief piece on poorly behaved queers & reactionary criticism against their existence in books. More relevant to you've lost a lot of blood / things have gotten worse since we last spoke. some interesting framing for LaRocca's work & certain criticisms of it.

#y2022 #books #novellas #horror #adultfiction #essays #reviews

I'm a data journalist and media educator based in the Pacific Northwest. Follow what I'm reading live on Storygraph. You can subscribe to this blog via email or via the Fediverse Find me at @petrinkae on Twitter or on Mastodon.

This blog has been pretty empty this year — I've been very busy with a new job (and also reading more nonfiction than speculative fiction).

But! Ancillary Review gave me the opportunity to read E. Saxey's collection of dreamy, discomfiting short fiction. It's a fantastic selection of work. I especially loved “The Librarian’s Dilemma,” “Missing Episodes,” and “Raising the Sea Drowned,” but it's the rare collection where every short was worth the read, for me.

Check out my review on Ancillary's website.

#y2022 #shorts #adultfiction #external #books

I'm a data journalist and media educator based in the Pacific Northwest. Follow what I'm reading live on Storygraph. You can subscribe to this blog via email or via the Fediverse Find me at @petrinkae on Twitter or on Mastodon.


The Route of Ice and Salt by Jose Luis Zarate The Silence of Wilting Skin by Tlotlo Tsamaase Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard Caroline's Heart by S.A. Chant The Companion by E.E. Ottoman Briarley by Aster Glenn Gray Home by Toni Morrison In the Watchful City by S. Qiouyi Lu A Necessity of Stars by E. Catherine Tobler


Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters The Ruthless Lady's Guide to Wizardry by C.M. Wagonner The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting by K.J. Charles Nearly Roadkill by Caitlin Sullivan & Kate Bornstein Nevada by Imogen Binnie Kindred by Olivia Butler Swordheart by T. Kingfisher White Trash Warlock / Trailer Park Trickster by David R. Slayton The Queer Principles of Kit Webb by Cat Sebastian Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

Short Fic Collections

Everyone on the Moon is Essential Personnel by Julian K. Jarboe Even Greater Mistakes by Charlie Jane Anders


Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo Bad Witch Burning by Jessica Lewis Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao The Thief of Always by Clive Barker

Memoirs & Nonfiction

All Boys Aren't Blue by George M. Johnson Glitch Feminism by Legacy Russell Care of by Ivan Coyote Dear Senthuran by Akwaeke Emezi A Restricted Country by Joan Nestle Belly of the Beast by Da'Shaun Harrison On Connection by Kae Tempest


from unincorporated territory [guma'] by Craig Santos Perez Knots by R.D. Laing Cross Cutting by Charles Jensen Can you sign my tentacle? by Brandon O'Brien next by Lucille Clifton The Black Maria by Aracelis Girmay On the Spectrum of Possible Deaths by Lucia Perillo

Graphic Novels/Manga

Thirsty Mermaids by Kat Leyh The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen Our Dreams at Dusk by Yuhki Kamatani (vol. 1-4) Are You Listening by Tillie Walden Alone in Space by Tillie Walden The Dire Days of Willoweep Manor by Shaenon K. Garrity Boys Run the Riot by Keito Gaku Eat the Rich by Sarah Gailey (iss. 1-5) A Map to the Sun by Sloane Leong

#y2021 #roundups #endofyear #books

I'm a data journalist and media educator based in the Pacific Northwest. Follow what I'm reading live on Storygraph. You can subscribe to this blog via email or via the Fediverse Find me at @petrinkae on Twitter or on Mastodon.

Review: The Unbroken by C.L. Clark

Publication Date: March 23, 2021
Attributes: adult novel, f/f unresolved sexual tension, enemies-to-still-enemies-but-horny-about-it, low-key backstory polycule (I think???), epic military fantasy
Quick note: I received a free copy of this book from Orbit via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. That did not influence the content of this review.

HO BOY. I do not even know where to start with this one. There's so much here, and it's all so GOOD.

This is a smart, brutal book invested in the concept of empire and colonization. It struggles heavily with complicity, and it's not shy or evasive when it comes down to it. It shares some thematic resonance with Kacen Callender's Queen of the Conquered and Matt Wallace's Savage Legion, though the plot and setting are entirely novel. And some elements remind me quite a bit of Emily Skrutskie's Bonds of Brass — though this book succeeds in all of the places where that novel fell flat, for me, as it manages to actually meaningfully grapple with the concept of empire.

The Unbroken follows two women at opposite poles of an empire whose lives crash together. One, Touraine, is a lieutenant in a colonial brigade of the empire that conquered her home country. The other, Luca, is the embattled heir to that country.

Touraine's military superiors have failed her again and again, and early in the story, they strip her of her rank and condemn her to death. Luca decides to save her so that she can use the former lieutenant to infiltrate a rebel cell that's trying to destabilize colonial rule. Meanwhile, she's also trying to find proof that rumors of magic are true, and use that magic to heal a plague.

What follows is... a lot. Touraine struggles with indoctrination/inculcation that has convinced her to remain loyal to the empire that separated her from her family and continues to abuse her and use her comrades as canon-fodder. Yet, she excels among her soldiers, gets promoted, feels success and pleasure at the small nibbles of validation that the army metes out. Even after getting sentenced to death, she's still loyal.

But things start to change as she interacts with the rebel forces. She has family among them, and they... don't get along. But her connection to Luca continues to draw her back in to the life she's learned to love, and the rules that she's been promised will reward her if she follows them.

Meanwhile, Luca's scrabbling for power, desperate to push Touraine to find any kind of advantage that can end the rebel insurgence. She wants to take a different approach to rule than others in the empire, is a scholar seeking the secrets of magic and peace, and she sees herself as better than the rest. Maybe she is, but she's still cruel, self-centered, and short-sighted in many ways.

Everyone makes terrible, terrible choices in this book. Things go horribly, progressively wrong. Each time something gets slightly better, something else goes wrong (usually because Touraine or Luca made a disastrous decision). There's no easy romance here — there's a lot of tension, and betrayal, and fury. But their connection is undeniable and fascinating. As they fight on and their allegiances change, their relationship still propels the book.

I loved this one overall. It's smart and mean and cathartic in a way that really, really works, and is compulsively readable to boot. Highly recommend — and you still have a few days to preorder.

#y2021 #novels #prepublication #adultfiction #reviews #books

I'm a data journalist and media educator based in the Pacific Northwest. Follow what I'm reading live on Storygraph. You can subscribe to this blog via email or via the Fediverse Find me at @petrinkae on Twitter or on Mastodon.

Review: Sweet & Bitter Magic by Adrienne Tooley

Publication Date: March 9, 2021
Attributes: young adult novel, f/f enemies to lovers romance, magic shenanigans, fairytale-esque
Quick note: I received a free copy of this book from Margaret K. McElderry Books via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. That did not influence the content of this review.

An inexplicable plague sweeps the land. Magical source Wren is fighting to stop it to save her father. Cursed witch Tamsin just wants to be left alone, to harvest feelings of love from hapless customers who need magic but can't afford to go elsewhere.

Wren's love for her father is very strong, though, and Tamsin's reserves are very low. So when Wren approaches Tamsin to ask her to help hunt the dark witch causing the plague, Tamsin agrees — for a price.

What follows is part adventure, part romance, part family drama.

Tamsin's curse comes from a dark past, which unfolds to readers slowly as Tamsin puzzles through diary entries written by her lost sister in her final days.

Tamsin's story is one of grief, of being pushed out of everything she knew because of past mistakes, and having no one left to mourn with. And Wren is newly struggling with the loss of her father (and the eventual loss of her love for him). Wren becomes a friend willing to push back at Tamsin's habitual bitterness and cruelty. Together, they recover some of what they both have lost.

I am pretty picky about the enemies to lovers trope, rather than a staunch believer in it, and this one ultimately wasn't for me in the way the relationship started and developed. I was more interested in the themes related to loss of family, which do play a major role by the end, but feel very quickly and neatly resolved after the book's emotionally fraught first half.

However, there's a lot of interesting things going for this book: some fun magical worldbuilding, a clear and propulsive quest that merges well with character growth and growing feelings, generally propulsive prose, a lot of banter. It's something I'd recommend to a lot of readers, especially people who really enjoy enemies-to-lovers YA where the characters are initially frosty but grow to see the truth of each other.

#y2021 #novels #prepublication #yafiction #reviews #books

I'm a data journalist and media educator based in the Pacific Northwest. Follow what I'm reading live on Storygraph. You can subscribe to this blog via email or via the Fediverse Find me at @petrinkae on Twitter or on Mastodon.

Review: On Fragile Waves by E. Lily Yu

Publication Date: February 2, 2021
Attributes: adult novel, immigration story, nested narratives, hauntings
Quick note: I received a free copy of this book from Erewhon Books via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. That did not influence the content of this review.

Firuzeh loves her life in Afghanistan. But her parents take her, and her brother Nour, and run to Australia, hoping to escape war and political turbulence.

What follows is an aching story told through lyrical prose, part immigration tale and family drama, part nontraditional haunting.

Firuzeh's journey is fraught with dangers and tragedies. Early on, she meets another girl who dies during the oceanic passage to Australia. She'll continue to see echoes and visions of that girl throughout the book. Her family finally makes it to Australia, after the horrible voyage and limbo in a refugee camp. But they find cold welcome, and life in Australia comes with heartbreak after heartbreak.

Firuzeh, who's basically still a child, doesn't totally understand everything that's happening around her — wars, and deaths, and arbitrary legal processes, and inexplicable cruelties — which makes the story, if anything, more harrowing. But her narration is threaded with the fantasies and stories that she picks up from others along the way — moments of hope and brightness and longing through the shared connection with another world.

This book is beautiful, and phenomenally researched, and absolutely gut-wrenching. Most of the other stories I've read about refugees recently have been memoirs, or works of nonfiction written by younger relatives about their parents' or grandparents' journeys and legacies. This book takes a more fictionalized approach, and it does a lot right with it. The shadow of the girl from the voyage who haunts Firuzeh, especially, feels poignant and emotional. The narrative never tries to explain her presence or its implications, which works quite well.

There's a bit of an odd moment where a journalist pops in. Her interviewees criticize her only wanting refugee stories that are sad, rather than looking for moments of humanity and connection across a broader spectrum. The interaction feels troublesome, and a bit unresolved; it leaves the reader wondering whether the book itself has done something similar. The author seems to have grappled with this concern in her fictionalization — and I suspect she attempts to answer that concern through the moments where characters share fantasy and bond through storytelling. These, and other small moments, try to move the novel toward hope and magic as much as despair.

I think as a reader, I felt the devastation more than I felt the moments of hopefulness, so your mileage may vary there. Still, in all, an excellent debut novel and an empathetic tale that doesn't want to provide easy answers.

#y2021 #novels #prepublication #adultfiction #reviews #books

I'm a data journalist and media educator based in the Pacific Northwest. Follow what I'm reading live on Storygraph. You can subscribe to this blog via email or via the Fediverse Find me at @petrinkae on Twitter or on Mastodon.

Review: Rise of the Red Hand by Olivia Chadha

Publication Date: January 19, 2021
Attributes: young adult fiction, cyberpunk/mecha, climate change dystopia, South Asian setting, cis m/f non-central romance
Quick note: I received a free copy of this book from Erewhon Books via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. That did not influence the content of this review.

The Rise of the Red Hand largely stands out for its style, a general air of badassery on a dystopian backdrop.

The setting is explicitly South Asian — a rarity, when cyberpunk often pulls aesthetics from Asian cultures but showcases white protagonists. Uplanders live lives of ease and wealth inside a climate-controlled dome. But outside, the inhabitants of the Narrows struggle to survive a world wracked with disastrous climate change.

This book's worldbuilding shines: the gritty cyberpunk setting is fraught with political conflict. Cybernetics and mecha elements play prominently throughout: the lower-class inhabitants of the Narrows often take on cybernetics in a desperate bid to survive, while the upper-class uses mechas to squash rebellions and control the populace.

But it's also flecked with delightful details and bits of humor, like mercenaries and grifters using revived Neopets-like creatures as currency on odd jobs.

The story follows two sisters, both revolutionaries with the mysterious Red Hand, who are working to take down a technocratic government as a deadly plague ravages the globe. One, Ashiva, is basically a cyborg who completes various tasks for the Red Hand and gains increasing leadership/importance as the book progresses. The other, Taru, is kidnapped as part of a shady experimental program. Both have lived their whole lives in underworld spaces full of people their government would rather forget. They encounter another POV character, Riz-Ali, an upper-class politician's son who leads a secret life as a hacker.

The story is told in split-first person POV. I tend to find that format difficult to follow, no matter how deft the author is — a fault of mine, not the book. I think readers who spend more time with books in this POV style will likely find the perspectives compelling. The prose is consistently tight, fast-paced, and emotionally attuned to the characters, so that helps.

Riz-Ali and Ashiva form the plot core of the book, though Ashiva's search for her missing sister (and its implications for the world around them) forms a bit more of the emotional core and motivations. Their stories intertwine as they try to fight back against the algorithm that runs their cruel government.

The plot is at its strongest when it focuses on the relationships between the characters and their communities. The character journeys were interesting, if a bit genre standard. At points where it delves into some of the motives of the larger forces around the main characters, it feels weaker: the book drops big reveals (especially about the nature of the Red Hand) that feel like they'll likely be explored in future installments. As it was, some of these big secrets didn't hugely change the stakes of this book for the characters themselves, despite having major implications for the worldbuilding. And the story is clearly awaiting a sequel, so some plot aspects are left unresolved.

That said, in all, this is a unique YA with some really compelling elements. It's a quick read, and worth it for anyone who likes to dive into a good cyberpunk world.

#y2021 #novels #prepublication #yafiction #reviews #books

I'm a data journalist and media educator based in the Pacific Northwest. Follow what I'm reading live on Storygraph. You can subscribe to this blog via email or via the Fediverse Find me at @petrinkae on Twitter or on Mastodon.