What a strange book! It just…didn’t do anything that I expected it to do. I was anticipating a Hunger Games-style revolution, but…nope. And I think I love it? Because it was so unexpected, and I really like when books surprise me. But because it’s outside the established narrative, my insides are all confused! Probably you should also read it and draw your own conclusions, but here are a few thoughts anyway:
The setting is awesome. 400+ years in the future, an AI named Talis has taken over control of the planet, ruling with a semi-benevolent but iron hand. To keep peace between nations (in a world where water is scarce so tensions run high), all rulers must send a child to specific Preceptures where they will learn to run nations…and be held hostage. If a nation goes to war, their child is murdered.
Greta is a princess hostage, and until Elian comes, she never bothers to question the system. It’s all she knows. But then she begins to question things, and this is where I thought things would be typical, and they would revolt and start a new world order. But…everything EXCEPT that happened. There’s a revolution, of sorts, and also torture, stalemates, negotiating, AIs, and a LOT of ambiguity. This is the book’s strong suit, I think.
Talis (who steps into the story about halfway through) is, like I said earlier, a brutal but semi-benevolent AI ruling the world. He’s also hilarious and snarky, and I couldn’t help but like him while being terrified of his every move. Then there’s the Abbot, an AI who runs the Prefecture and tortures students, but who saves Greta and is kind of a good guy? And the humans! They’re a mess! They also torture people, hold people hostage, and murder people. So….in the question of whether humans or AI should rule the world, this book answers with a resounding “¯\_(ツ)_/¯.” And I like that. Also I really like Talis, did I mention that? Ambiguous AI are my new interest, apparently.
The other strange thing about the story is Greta’s love life. Now, for her personally, I get that both Xie and Elian would be appealing. The whole point of the book is that she’s been on emotional lockdown her whole life, so the fact that her sexual awakening occurs with both a boy and a girl is not too difficult to swallow. But everyone else seems vaguely polyamorous too, which seems like a huge cultural difference to occur in the next 400+ years. No one cares that she’s making out with everyone? Xie and Elian just….aren’t jealous of each other? Multiple characters are vaguely pansexual? We know from elsewhere that marriages still occur (though most that we see are political in nature), so I guess maybe that’s just how Bow’s futuristic society works. I dunno. Maybe I am too concerned with labels.
Maybe my real hold up is that Greta herself didn’t seem all that interesting. We’re told she has all the power in the group, and occasionally she really does shine. But Xie, Elian, and Talis are the real leaders of the story, and I found myself far more invested in them.
I have a lot of confused feelings about this book! Has anyone else read it? Let’s talk!
The world is at peace, said the Utterances. And really, if the odd princess has a hard day, is that too much to ask?
Greta is a duchess and crown princess–and a hostage to peace. This is how the game is played: if you want to rule, you must give one of your children as a hostage. Go to war and your hostage dies.
Greta will be free if she can survive until her eighteenth birthday. Until then she lives in the Precepture school with the daughters and sons of the world’s leaders. Like them, she is taught to obey the machines that control their lives. Like them, she is prepared to die with dignity, if she must. But everything changes when a new hostage arrives. Elian is a boy who refuses to play by the rules, a boy who defies everything Greta has ever been taught. And he opens Greta’s eyes to the brutality of the system they live under–and to her own power.
As Greta and Elian watch their nations tip closer to war, Greta becomes a target in a new kind of game. A game that will end up killing them both–unless she can find a way to break all the rules.
Release Date: September 2015