First sentence: “Once Upon a Time, at the End of the World.”
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Content: There are exactly two f-bombs, some mild swearing, and one illusion to sex. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore, but I’d give it to a 7th grader, if they had no objections to the content.
At this point in my life, I’m very much been-there, done-that when it comes to dystopian/post-apocalyptic books. I feel like I’ve read/seen them all, and there’s really nothing new to explore there. So, my first thought was that this was just going to be more of the same-old, same-old, and I passed on the ARC. Then it came in, and on the back were quotes from authors I respect, so I thought (somewhat begrudgingly), that I would give this one a try.
(I know, I know: I’m not “supposed” to start these with “I’m not a fan of x”. But bear with me.)
It didn’t take me too long to realize that I was utterly wrong. First of all, the premise is something I haven’t encountered in a long while: humans have destroyed the world through climate change and war, and somewhere along the way, invented artificial intelligence. One of the AIs decided that enough was enough, and took over — by blowing up a number of huge cities — ruling the world. And the way Talis, the AI, decided to keep the peace? By keeping the children of the world’s rulers hostage. If they enter into war, their children would be killed.
Greta is the Crown Princess of the PanPolar Confederacy, a major North American power formed out of what we know as Canada. She’s also a hostage of Talis, living in the prairies of Saskatchewan at the Precepture with her compatriots, fellow hostages. Then one day, war breaks out, one of her friends dies, and a new boy, Elian, shows up. He’s the grandson of the leader of a new alliance, and he’s not at all willing to take his role as a Dutiful and Humble hostage. He fights every step of the way. And somehow, this awakens Greta (and the rest, including her best friend La Da-Xia) to the horrible reality that is her life.
There is so much more to it than that, but I don’t want to give it all away. I adored the combination of high-tech (there are flying battleships and smart pads and cameras and, of course, the AI) and low-tech (the children at the Precepture are basically farmers, thinking about raising goats and bees and harvesting vegetables. There’s a monastery-like feel, as well: they call the AI in charge “Father”. But I also loved the diversity: Bow rightly depicted people from all over the world — African, Asian, Native American, Hispanic — but it felt natural and organic rather than some sort of forced diversity.
But what I really loved was the fluidity of the romance. There’s a love triangle of sorts, but not your typical one; Greta is bisexual and there’s no angst or heartache about this. She’s in love with both a male and a female, and it’s just the way she is. And even Talis, when he shows up, was more gender fluid in his depiction (as benefiting and AI, no?). It was all very different, and very, very refreshing.
It’s the start of a series, and I’ll definitely be picking up the next one to see where Bow takes Greta’s story.