The Swan Riders by Erin Bow
Published: September 20th, 2016 by Margaret K. Elderberry Books which is an imprint of Simon and Schuster.
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Page Count: 376 in my ARC, but the finished version most likely has closer to 384. Or at least that's what the info in the ARC says.
Part of a series? Yes, this is the second book in the Prisoners of Peace series. You can read my review of the first book here. Be warned, even the summary of this will contain spoilers for the first book, as will my review. I will try to avoid major spoilers for this book itself in the review. I do not think this will be a trilogy.
Got via: A lovely envelope filled with goodies from Simon and Schuster Canada.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound
Summary (from goodreads): Greta Stuart had always known her future: die young. She was her country's crown princess, and also its hostage, destined to be the first casualty in an inevitable war. But when the war came it broke all the rules, and Greta forged a different path.
She is no longer princess. No longer hostage. No longer human. Greta Stuart has become an AI.
If she can survive the transition, Greta will earn a place alongside Talis, the AI who rules the world. Talis is a big believer in peace through superior firepower. But some problems are too personal to obliterate from orbit, and for those there are the Swan Riders: a small band of humans who serve the AIs as part army, part cult.
Now two of the Swan Riders are escorting Talis and Greta across post-apocalyptic Saskatchewan. But Greta’s fate has stirred her nation into open rebellion, and the dry grassland may hide insurgents who want to rescue her – or see her killed. Including Elian, the boy she saved—the boy who wants to change the world, with a knife if necessary. Even the infinitely loyal Swan Riders may not be everything they seem.
Greta’s fate—and the fate of her world—are balanced on the edge of a knife.
Review: For the record, I didn't even read the back of the book before I started reading this. I was very, very careful to go in not knowing anything but that I was super excited after reading The Scorpion Rules.
Oh, you guys, I adored this. If this is the last book I read in 2016 (which I hope it won't be - I have plans for a couple more!), that would be a very, very high point to go out on. This works for me so well. I read half of it and then had to basically abandon it because Christmas exploded and when I picking it up at least week later, it felt like I had put it down ten minutes ago. I liked the first book a whole lot, but this one is really, really good. It hits so many of the things I greatly enjoy in books and I was so, so hooked.
Plot Talk: I don't think I can tell you anything that happens in the plot without completely spoiling things! I can say that the pacing is amazing. Like I said, I put it down for a long time because Christmas, and as soon as I picked up up, I read the second half in one sitting. It knows how to take time for the important moments that need to be a little slower without dragging or being boring.
Characters: I still loved Greta and also still can't type or write "Greta" without my fingers wanting to make it "Great". She is pretty great, though. I'm pretty sure that I am always going to love girls that are a little broken and the contrast in her voice in this book has an amazing contrast between moments where she's removed and cold and moments where her emotions almost overwhelm her. There are times when her emotions are stifled (by plot things I can't tell you) and that loss and emptiness are incredibly striking. I think that feeling will ring true for many people who have struggled with depression. This is a thing that works for me. Ask me about my feelings about New Moon and season six of Buffy some day.
I also like that while Greta is obviously very important to the plot, it's because of her actions that she's important, and other people are as well. She can't fix everything by herself.
We get a lot of new characters in this. There's a lot of change in general, in settings and characters and voice, and it works very well. Bow has a real gift for creating chemistry between characters. Not just sexual and romantic tension (although she is really good at that, too), but the characters she writes are interesting and you want to read about how they interact and come together and even how they irritate each other.
Also the sneaky little snarky and sarcastic bits about Elián are stil absolutely hilarious, but he has grown as a character. He's such a deviance from the norm of this archetype and I so appreciate what the author is doing with this character. He's not perfect, he doesn't make good decisions and there are consequences for this, the stereotypical things that this type of character does and gets away with don't work for him. My favourite line about him, and this is from the ARC so, like, [sic] or whatever, it might be different in the finished copy, is one where he's said to be, "demonstrating his knack for getting through a crisis, but not past it" and that was just... absolutely hilarious to me for some reason. It really does describe him, and shows that humour the author has about the character and the tropes associated with it, but never goes so far as to make the character a joke.
And again, prominent Jewish character is nifty, right? This one also has a prominent black disabled character and a brown queer girl among the new characters, and I loved them so much. There is such care taken with these characters, you know?
Let's not talk about the ending where I cried for about twenty minutes - or let's talk about that a little later, actually. It'll be more relevant in a later part of this review.
PG-13 stuff: Uh what does the back say... the back says ages 14/grade 9 and up, so that's context. Slightly older YA, 'cause of, like, you know the war and violence and stuff. Not actually a lot for language, which is interesting, and I'm sort of impressed by. Some of the violence in these books could be a little disturbing for younger or more sensitive readers, so use your discretion as necessary.
Also, I don't know where else to put this, but kudos for a YA book actually mentioning that people have nipples, especially considering the context (medical situation).
Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: I do actually have one. There are characters who have seizures in the book because of things I won't say because spoilers, and whenever a seizure happens, people hold them down and there's a fair amount of talk about how much force/weight it takes to hold them. DON'T DO THAT. PLEASE. You can dislocate peoples' shoulders, cause nerve damage, be injured yourself, etc. This is actually something that has really started irritating me in medical shows especially, but every time I read it, it made me cringe. Maybe it's been edited in the finished copy - I can't get my hands on one at this time to see - but regardless, I thought I'd mention it because even if that's changed, it's good for people to know not to do that.
I did miss Xie a lot, though. I'm going to get into some spoiler territory in the next couple paragraphs, so feel free to skip this segment, but I think it's important to talk about. If you don't know or didn't read my review of the first book or whatever, Greta is queer and in love with a girl, and that is definitely not ignored in this book. I just... I understand why the book ended the way it did for a story reason... but I missed Xie, and I wish we could have seen them be happy together more, especially because I'm pretty sure this is only a duology. DEFINITELY SPOILER BUT I FEEL LIKE YOU GUYS WOULD WANT TO KNOW - but it's not like the book killed either of them. There's a line in the first book about no fairy tales having two princesses in them, and I wish there had been something to show that that isn't true just a little more.
About deaths... let me try to explain this. Actually, let me add another link to this review. A few days ago, Seanan McGuire talked about how characters and how she can't protect all of her characters but can still treat them with respect, and basically go read this real quick and come back. I think that's also an accurate way to describe this book. Queer characters may die, but everyone is at equal risk of death because, you know, war. All deaths are treated with respect, and I don't think it ever goes into "bury your gays" (or bisexuals) territory, or remotely close. The ending, though we've lost characters we cared about, is very, very hopeful. Greta has plans on making things better, and those plans feel good.
All that is to say, I missed Xie, but I'm not uncomfortable recommending this book because of any representation issues I noticed. And if I missed anything that should affect my recommendation, please let me know!
Cover comments: I adore this cover. This colour blue and the relative simplicity of it super works for me. It's almost deceptively simple, since you don't see the background at first, and that's really cool. Also, while I liked the Scorpion Rules' cover fine, the new paperback cover is gorgeous, and it fits with The Swan Riders way better. Those two would look so good next to each other. Really like the cover.
Conclusion: I'm really glad I read this. I enjoyed both books, and if I'm correct in assuming this is a duology, Swan Riders really wraps up the series well. There's no slump from the first book from the second. I love books that talk about consent, and this has several moments of that and it's handled very well. I love the setting being in Saskatchewan still, because that's my home. Also, two books essentially about princesses and other royalty, and there's legit no body shaming or fatphobia. Probably could have used a couple more prominant fat characters, but frankly at this point I take what I can get.
I feel like between the seizure thing and missing Xie, I'm probably going to knock off half a rose, but this is still a book I really, really enjoy, and I do recommend the series as a whole. For me, they feel really good to read and I'm glad I did. Four out of five roses.
Peace and cookies,