400 years in the future, the world is ruled by an artificial intelligence named Talis who has the ability to blow up cities if they fail to follow his rules. Talis also demands that any ruler in the world give up a child to be held hostage. That child is raised as a Child of Peace in small schools called Preceptures. If their parent decides to go to war with another region, that child is immediately put to death. Greta has been living in a Canadian Precepture since she was five. She is the Duchess of Halifax and the Crown Princess of the Pan-Polar Confederation. She knows her destiny is either to die or to leave the Prefecture at age 18 to become the ruler of her confederation. But everything changes when a new boy enters the Prefecture, a boy not raised to be a ruler but instead raised on a sheep farm and a boy unwilling to submit to the rules of the school or the world. As Greta grows closer to Elian, she begins to question the rules she has embraced all of her life. But their countries are about to declare war upon one another, so Greta’s time is coming to a close alongside Elian and before Greta has truly learned to live.
I am in awe, seriously. I adored Bow’s previous book that merged Native Americans with zombies. So I was happy to see another book by her and then shocked to have it so wildly different. Shocked in a good way, where you realize the breadth of a writer’s vision and skill. Bow manages to create a world where machines rule and it all makes sense. She casually throws around technology terms and they all work as well. This is not a world that is a strain to see coming, but rather one that is so psychologically logical as a result of our current world that it is bruisingly beautifully complete.
Greta is a an elegant character, a bundle of contradictions held together solely by the constraints of the world she finds herself in. She is a natural ruler, even among other teens who are born to lead. She comports herself with dignity always, her greatest fear being to let her people down. And then into that constricted life comes Elian, filled with humor, laughter and bravery. Greta changes, slowly and steadily, from ruler to human in the greatest sense. It is beautiful to witness, believable and tragically timed.
I would do this book a disservice if I didn’t talk about its diversity. The characters are all diverse and unique, the group of older teens come from all parts of the world. And the diversity doesn’t end there, because there is also a lush and lovely lesbian romance alongside a gay one where it is portrayed with all of the beauty and romance one could want.
Masterful science fiction with grand world building and one hell of a protagonist, this is one of my top science fiction reads of the year. Appropriate for ages 14-16.
Reviewed from ARC received from Margaret K. McElderry Books.