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sophia_sol ([personal profile] sophia_sol) wrote2017-07-15 12:31 pm

The Swan Riders, by Erin Bow

OH GOSH!!! It's hard to know what to say about this book. It was SO GOOD.

It was unexpectedly....smaller in focus than the last book. The last book was all about Broad Political Implications even though its physical scope was extremely limited due to the entirety of the action taking place in a school for hostages. This book has a wide-ranging road trip and the main character is now an AI who can literally see the entire world if she wants, but it is actually all about internal journeys. Lots of delightful stuff about identity, and interpersonal relationships, and what it means to be human, and the complexities of people's motivations and choices. All very masterfully done and I was riveted.

Like, the bit where Greta calls Francis Xavier the patron saint of having way more going on beneath the surface than you would ever guess is GREAT. When we're introduced to him he seems like a one-note character, but over the course of the book you learn more and more about him and what Greta says is true. He's such an interesting and well-rounded character.

I also appreciated how the integration of Rachel progressed over the course of these books. In the first book she's introduced offhand as the person whose body Talis is possessing but is never indicated to actually matter in her own person. But over the course of this book Rachel's importance becomes more and more clear; she's a person in her own right, not just a body for Talis to borrow, culminating in Rachel's integration into Talis. Though I do wish we'd gotten more sense of what Rachel's like as a person - we learned some about her history, and about her relationship with Francis Xavier, and about Swan Rider motivations as a whole, but not a lot about her actual personality.

(sidenote: I was weirded out by the pronoun choices for the Talis-Rachel hybrid person; Talis is "he" and Rachel is "she" but there's no mention of the gender identity of Talis-Rachel so it's weird that a binary pronoun, "she", is just...arbitrarily decided on by Greta, I guess?)

One of the most interesting bits though was the moment Talis Two was introduced once we were used to Talis-in-Rachel's-body. I'd gotten lulled into understanding Talis as this slightly-more-human Talis, and then Two arrives and it's like a sudden bam of OH RIGHT, FUCK, HOW DID I FORGET THAT TALIS IS CREEPY AS HELL.

And I loved that the Swan Riders are both fanatically loyal and also not at the same time, like, yes they would do anything for Talis, and that includes starting a rebellion against him in order to change him for his own good. Amazing.

I love that very early on in the book, when Talis tells Greta they're equals, she's immediately like, okay then let's stop controlling the world via killing and terrorizing people, and he's like LOLNOPE. And then at the end of the book them being equals comes up again, and Greta makes the same suggestion, and then they do it. The explicit and obvious parallel makes it so clear how much things have changed over the course of the book - both in terms of them actually becoming more like equals, and in terms of Talis becoming more human and understanding why order through terror is not great.

But now I want desperately to know WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, since the book ends at the moment the orbital weapons systems are destroyed. Things are going to be shaken up a lot, and the concern raised about what happens with the sudden power vacuum is not unfounded at all. I hope things don't get too fucked up! I hope the world actually gets better!

But from reading through various author interviews it looks like there's no immediate plans for future books set in this universe; the next two books in her pipeline are about totally different things. SIGH.

(Also I'm disappointed that the romance between Greta and Xie gets pretty backgrounded in favour of more stuff about Greta and Elian. Like, Greta/Xie is still The Romance for Greta, but Greta and Xie don't have a single actual interaction in the entire book. And the...whatever it is between Greta and Elian is what gets lots of page time exploration. Sigh. I do appreciate that multiple people can be important to a person, in different ways, but Elian - the most Normal YA Dystopia Main Character type of character in the books - is just not interesting to me.)