Danika reviews Once and Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy

Once and Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy

That’s what resistance looks like, Merlin. It’s not one glorious, shining victory. It’s a torch you keep burning, no matter what.

I’m not even sure how to approach writing about this book, because it is so ambitious. Once & Future is a queer, sci fi retelling of the Arthur myth, with a female Arthur. It’s somehow simultaneously dystopian, sci fi, and fantasy. Dystopia, because in this future, the universe is ruled by the Mercer Corporation, which keeps everyone in line by controlling the supply of water. But there’s enough space ships to scratch that sci fi itch, and, of course, there’s Excalibur, Merlin, Morgana, and the Lady in the Lake to keep things fantastical.

That’s partly why it’s so delightful that this also has an almost entirely queer cast. (With several poc characters as well, but this isn’t as clearly defined, so I’m pretty sure Ari is Ketch (Arab) and Lam is Black, but I’m not sure about all the other characters.) Ari and her adoptive brother have two moms. Merlin is gay. Ari, Val, and Gwen are all queer, there’s an asexual character, and there’s a non-binary who uses they/them pronouns. There is no explanation, no reason why everyone happens to be queer, except that in the future, they aren’t so weird about it. (When Merlin says that in his time, people use phenotypical features to guess people’s gender, the other characters are disgusted by this backwards belief.) It’s nice that we’re finally reaching the point where you can have a genre book packed full of queer characters, and to have it be entirely incidental to the plot.

Speaking of plot, I have no idea how to try to summarize it succinctly. Post global warming, humans retired Earth and sought new homes on the moon and on different planets. Ari was born on Ketch, but she was found as a small child in wreckage near the planet. Ketch, originally founded by Arab people, has since been sealed off under a barrier for their resistance against Mercer. Kay and his two moms adopt illegal refugee Ari and start running from the law. When they attempt to return her to Ketch, Mom and Captain Mom (!!!) are arrested, and Kay and Ari are left to fend for themselves–until Merlin shows up to tell Ari that she’s the latest (and first female) reincarnation of the legendary King Arthur, destined to bring down evil (Mercer), ascend the nearest throne, and unite humanity. (Ari is skeptical. Merlin thinks that this usually is easier: “Most boys secretly believed they should be heroes: the stories told them so.”) And that about brings us up to the first couple chapters.

The story is shared between Merlin and Ari. Ari is a reluctant hero, just trying to protect her family and friends and do the right thing. Merlin has been training dozens of incarnations of Arthur throughout time, all without fulfilling their destiny of uniting humanity. Every time, he has to watch Arthur die. He then sleeps in a cave until the next incarnation is ready to begin training. Not only is he stuck in this cycle, tormented by Morgana, but he’s also aging backwards throughout it. Now, he’s a teenager, and he’s terrified of what happens when he becomes a child, then an infant.

One of the things that Merlin is seeking to avoid this cycle is Gweneviere and Arthur’s doomed romance. Gwen and Ari are no exception: they’ve been at each other’s throat since childhood at Knights Camp on Gwen’s medieval-themed planet. Of course, that animosity may have just been hiding something else… Unfortunately, Arthurs are destined to have their hearts broken by their Gwenevieres, betrayed by the knight they trust the most: Lancelot. Ari and Gwen’s relationship is just as passionate and thorny as their star-crossed history would suggest.

And no matter what, Ari wasn’t going to be able to walk away from Gwen. She would stay right here, in the riot of her pain, for even a chance at this closeness.

There is also a moment near the end of the book that reminded me of this take on the “ultimate female power fantasy” of The Last Jedi, so that was pretty great.

In fact, if it hasn’t already been clear, I loved this book. It is epic and feminist and queer. It’s about resistance and survival, making connections and refusing to back down. It’s being bravely vulnerable. I loved that I got to know this whole ridiculous crew, who all add to the story. They become a family, in their stubborn, arguing, loyal way. It’s fast-paced, captivating, funny, and feminist. Despite the action and comedy, it’s also deeply emotional, and has moving f/f and m/m romances. When I first added this to Goodreads, I was a little disappointed to see that it’s the first in the series, because I worried that it wouldn’t have a neat conclusion, and I would have to wait for a long time to get the sequel. Now, I’m grateful, because I’m not ready to leave this family behind, and I definitely didn’t predict that ending. (Though I was right about one thing: I am impatient to read the sequel!)

And you were the thing Mercer feared most. A girl they couldn’t control, who wouldn’t stop talking. That’s the scariest damn thing in the universe.

[Content warning/spoiler, highlight to read: I do want to read a review by a Middle Eastern reviewer, because Ketch is described as a planet founded by Arabs, who lead the resistance. Unfortunately, they were all killed by the Mercer corporation. Although there is diversity in the crew, I didn’t feel good about all the Ketch people being killed other than Ari…]

Danika reviews The Swan Riders by Erin Bow

The Swan Riders by Erin Bow coverAfter hearing only good things about the Scorpion Rules duology, I was eager to pick it up. Unfortunately, I read the first book during a readathon, and reading a crushing dystopian story about war and brutality was not the best choice to read all in one sitting. It was darker than I was expecting, so I wasn’t emotionally prepared for it. I was, though, interested in the ideas introduced in the book. So I took a few months break before I picked up the second book in the series, The Swan Riders, in the hopes that I would be more prepared this time.

I spend most of my time reading this book thinking This is the reading rule you seem to re-learn over and over: just because people say a book is great, doesn’t mean you, personally, will love it. I have long since realized that it doesn’t matter how high calibre the quality of a book is if it doesn’t immediately appeal to me. Still, I continued with the sequel, because I had heard it was an improvement from the last book. Perhaps I was less connected to the characters because of the break that I took between books, but I was having trouble pushing through.

I have, historically, been a fan of dystopian novels, but this one I found hard to deal with. It’s just so straightforward about the suffering experienced. The pain. The first book includes a detailed scene of torture that nauseated me. The second book describes the slow deaths of several characters, all involving increasingly close together seizures. While the first book has some semblance of an us vs. them clarity, Greta spends most of her time in The Swan Riders alongside the villain of the previous book.

By the end of the narrative, I had come around. The strength of this story is in its ideas, especially (for me) its exploration of personal identity and humanity. [spoilers for first book:] Greta is an AI now, and she begins to drift away from her humanity and empathy, assisted by Talis’s intervention. [end spoilers] It takes this idea, of an AI enforcing global peace, and shows how tangled it is. How can global peace be achieved? Can it? And what amount of sacrifice is worth it? Clearly, Talis’s strategy is not defended by Greta or the narrative, but there’s also not a tidy alternative.

As for the queer content, there is definitely no central romantic story here. In fact, Greta does not interact with Xie for the whole novel. But her presence is there, nonetheless. She is Greta’s tie to humanity, to retaining her true self. She is a memory that Greta clings to. She is, in some ways, the home that Greta spends each step of her journey longing to return to. So although she isn’t a central character, she is a very important one.

For all my ups and downs with this duology, I would still recommend it, but with some caveats: this is not a queer Canadian princess fantasy-esque story that the blurb had me prepared for. This is a dystopia that is focused on war and its casualties. It is thought-provoking, but brutal.

Danika reviews The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

If you’ve been looking for the queer Hunger Games (or, at least, queer Mockingjay), this is the book for you.  Do you want to read about crushing oppression and the horrors of war, but with a bisexual protagonist? The Scorpion Rules is the book for you!

This was a bad choice for a readathon. I should have seen that coming, since this is clearly a dystopia, but the premise made it seem like a Fantasy novel:

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.

A queer Canadian princess dystopia! I was expecting a page-turner. I was not expecting a YA 1984. At the beginning of the novel, I definitely was getting those Fantasy-esque sci fi vibes. Once Elián arrives on the scene though, things get darker. The group of hostages that Greta is a part of have grown up that way. They have been trained to be hostages. To follow the rules. Behave. They know the deal: just get through until they turn 18, and then they will go home, and become rulers–if they live to 18. If their parents don’t declare war. Elián has not been raised with this expectation. He is the hostage of a newly-established nation. He resists. He rebels. And he poses a threat to all of them.

This is a world that is ruled by an AI. The hostages are held captive by robot enforcers. There is a panopticon. The AI has aerial weapons. Machines don’t get tired. Which is all to say that escape is impossible. You can be shot down from the sky at any point. You will be electrocuted if you say the wrong thing, if you question the system. But Elián refuses to comply, and they are punished collectively–with increasing harshness.

This is not a light read. In fact, it becomes brutal. There is torture. The end has one of the most disturbing scenes I’ve read in a book. That was what reminded me of 1984: the ending.

You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned a romance to this point, and that’s because although Greta has love interests, it really isn’t a significant part of the book. I did like Greta’s relationship with Xie, because it develops from such a close friendship, but I wasn’t exactly getting warm and fuzzy feelings.

I had mixed feelings about the villain, Talis (the AI). He speaks very casually (even in his “scriptures”), which toes the line to silliness at some points–but on the other hand, it almost makes him a more sinister character because of that. He does seem human.

As you can probably tell from this review, I have mixed feelings and thoughts about this. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but that’s my own fault for not knowing what I was getting into. I am definitely interested to pick up the second book, and hopefully I will have more coherent thoughts at that point.

Shira Glassman reviews “More than Anything” by Eden French (Queerly Loving Volume 2)

I’d like to recommend the YA dystopian short story “More than Anything” by Eden French, which kicks off Queer Pack’s Queerly Loving vol. 2. There are other stories about bi and lesbian women in the issue, but I’m not finished reading it yet and I didn’t want to wait til I finished the book before telling you about this great opener.

I don’t usually care for post-apocalyptic, dystopian, gritty settings, but French’s was written so approachably that I was sucked in immediately. Her teenage protagonist, Lexi, has the kind of self-sufficient grit and determination that made me feel like I was watching a younger, queerer Rey from the new Star Wars movies. Rey on Jakku, anyway – the Rey we see climbing around in broken ships looking for parts to sell.

Lexi is utterly adorable – there are creative details like her thinking claustrophobia meant fear of claws, which she’s eager to reassure the mutants she thinks their hands are neat! — and won’t let anything stand in her way. She lives in a world of violence between crime bosses and stolen drug stashes, but she has one goal in mind – getting testosterone for her best friend.

I’m not sure how to parse her identity because she brags about ‘getting the ladies’ (which could always be all talk but at least indicates an interest in women) but there’s also language on the final page, beautiful language, that implies she might be in love with said trans boy. On the other hand it could also be super intense, incredible platonic love.

I’m almost sorry this review is spoilery enough to ruin the experience of watching it unfold, because for several pages you see her sneaking into dangerous places and setting up a meeting with shadowy, ominous characters without knowing why. But it’s also important to me that people know lit like this is out there so sometimes spoilers become a necessary evil.

In any case I can think of many people who would love to see a queer teenage girl overcoming hardship and getting what she wants in a SFF setting, without facing any trace of either gendered violence or homophobia.

Shira Glassman’s next book comes out May 7! Have you preordered Cinnamon Blade: Knife in Shining Armor yet? If you like superhero f/f romance between a snarky badass and her favorite damsel-in-distress, check it out.

Anna Marie Reviews PSYCHO NYMPH EXILE by Porpentine Charity Heartscape  

“She resolved to never call something good again. If something was truly good there would be no need to call it good, and it wouldn’t need to pressure her to think so. It would help or hurt her, that was all. Things were only good if they drilled to the end of time and could be accounted for on your final resting day.”

[just to note: this review was written by someone who does not experience transmisogyny]

I think I’m simultaneously the worst person to read this book and also one of the people who it will connect with on a very deep level. I really had no idea what I truly had got myself in for with regard to PSYCHO NYMPH EXILE though, so if I can say one thing with this review it’s to be prepared for a lot of stuff and to make sure to take care of yourself whilst you’re reading it (whether that means you go slow or you have to stop and not read it at all!). On her website where I ordered the book Porpentine writes content/trigger warning for everything and holy moly is she right. To illustrate here are what I would consider the major content warnings [but this isn’t a full list! be kind to yourself!!]: physical + sexual violence, blood, body horror, death, trauma/ptsd, drug use and sex.

PSYCHO NYMPH EXILE drew me in originally because of the name (I am a Psycho Nymph definitely) and it basically charts the story of a traumatised trashgirl named Vellus and her also traumatised ex-magical girl girlfriend Isidol. It’s a pretty grotesque, blood filled sick story written by a trashwoman for other trashwomen, Heartscape said in an interview that “It is very much written for weird women with cocks who are exiled from society”.

The reading experience was one of horror, sensitivity, relatability, fear and softness. The novel dashes in and out of your comfort zones with a brutality that can leave you reeling. I think I would have been less grossed out and shocked by the novel if I had actually looked into what guro-wave as a genre was (basically eroticism and the grotesque, as far as I can see), because it says that’s what it is in the description its just the title seemed so Me in so many ways I had to pick it up!

Within the novel mental illness is made incredibly and distinctly bodily, present and gross, refusing to be inverted and covered up. Despair Syndrom with Temporal Purge or DSTP, (a parallel with (complex)PTSD) is an illness that is formed from experiencing traumatic events and consists of various colourings that affect your body, some are parasites, some cause you to shoot beams of slime and light out, and others do even wilder things. As someone with [c]ptsd I found the presentation of DSTP to be painfully resonant; my experiences of it are bodily and I regularly feel like I’m producing all this traumatic sludge. I do, however, tend to be uncomfortable with the discourse that suggests that if only mental illnesses could be “seen” in whatever form, then they wouldn’t be made invisible when this isn’t true. Physically disabled folks’ disabilities do get undermined and invisibilised, even when they are incredibly physically present, and I think its important to just remember that.

A very cool thing I learnt whilst writing this review was that the physical structuring of the book was made to be accessible and to allow the reader to get a break – porpentine said “I want a book that’s more legible for people with brain damage” – and that’s why the massive eyes that break the text up are there!!

The book breaks a lot of boundaries, both in terms of the content itself and the relationships between humans/animals/machines, magic/mundaneity, life/death, creating these wild, fluid, liminal trauma spaces and shifting understandings of what bodies are and how they work. As a reader I also felt that my own boundaries were broken too and in ways that I’m not entirely convinced needed to be. After a while I felt like the relentless horror was pretty gratuitous but maybe that’s because of the genre and my own sensitivities. I would really recommend this review if you want to look into more perspectives!

PSYCHO NYMPH EXILE is a love story and a survival story and a belonging story. Vellus and Isidol’s relationship feels familiar and so heartfelt, and even after so long on from reading the book they have stayed with me in their own weird wild way.

Danika reviews Biketopia edited by Elly Blue

A smart person once told me that the key to having a good life in the face of world’s uncertainty is to find something that is meaningful for you and go all-in for it. For me, that’s the real appeal of both bicycles and science fiction–no matter how grim the world looks, each other can take you to a place where you can see another perspective, explore your options, and even if they each have the potential to create as many problems they solve, at least you’ve gone somewhere in a way that feels good.

The introduction to Biketopia 

If I’m being entirely honest, I’d have to admit that my favourite part of Biketopia is the cover. That’s not a slight on the stories! It’s just that the sight of this beautiful illustration of a badass woman raising a bike above her head is arresting. Add on to that these are speculative fiction, feminist, bike-centered stories? I’m sold several times over!

There are only two blatantly queer stories in this collection, but all the stories do focus on women and their relationships with each other. The premises range, including semi-utopias, horrific dystopias, classic sci fi, as well as settings that seem all-too-possible.

The first sapphic story is “Meet Cute” by Maddy Spencer, the only comic of the collection. It is wordless, and shows our main character bringing her bike-powered bookmobile through a town. Although we obviously don’t get a big backstory, this seems like a peaceful, cooperative place, and bikes look to be the only means of transportation (other than by foot or wheelchair). When her bikemobile tips over, an adorable mechanic with an artificial (robot? magic??) arm repairs it for her, and hands her a phone number while they both blush furiously. It’s very short, but super cute.

The other queer story is “The Future of Flirtation” by Leigh Ward-Smith. Mika runs a mobile shop in a post-climate-change, water-starved world. When a 6-foot-something muscled figure strides up to her stand, she is immediately smitten, even though she has no idea the gender or even species of the person behind the mirrored helmet. She spends the story attempted to flirt with them, while bartering over a cold can of Coke.

This was a fun read, and although there weren’t many stories that were incredibly memorable, I did find the variations on “feminist bicycle science fiction” stories interesting. They definitely went in different directions. This is actually the fourth volume of the Bikes In Space series, each of which explore feminist sci fi stories about bicycling, so that sounds like your style, you should pick one up! (Probably this one. It has queer stories and a sweet cover.)

Megan G reviews Forget Yourself by Redfern Jon Barrett

Blondee’s world is comprised of fifty huts divided between four groups of people: least, minor, moderate, and severe. Each person is grouped based on what crime they committed in their previous life, though nobody can really know for sure what their exact crime was, as everybody comes into this world with no memories of who they previously were. The few memories people have are recorded in a book and used as rules to govern this world. The memories Blondee begins to have, however, will change the course of her world.

This is a tough book to review. It’s speculative science-fiction unlike any I’ve read before. Blondee’s world is new, both to the reader and to the characters, creating a deep sense of uncertainty throughout the novel that never fully dissipates. Every character is an amnesiac, making the world outside their prison compound a complete mystery and creating a strong sense of claustrophobia. We don’t know where we are, and we don’t know where we came from. I will admit, the eventual reveal left me scratching my head, but it also left me thinking in a way that very few dystopian novels ever have.

The issue of sexuality is just as complex as the rest of the narrative. Although Blondee’s world seems far more open-minded than our own, monogamy is still the law of the land, and when Blondee begins to shift into the world of polyamory she is quickly shunned by the rest of the compound. This is a world where everybody must act in the same way and follow the same rules, and having two lovers simply doesn’t fit with those rules. Despite the reaction of the rest of the compound, Blondee continues to date Burberry and Fredrick simultaneously, and, for a short time, this works for all three. Then, Blondee begins having memories.

The way that memory is dealt with in this book was something I found particularly intriguing. Everybody arrives into the world fully formed, but with no idea of who they are. When they do have memories, they’re vague. “If one person cheats, the other breaks up with them.” Nothing is personal or specific, and so it is believed that all memories are simply reminders of how the world works. When you’re with someone, they live with you. When you break up, you have sex once, and then one of you moves out. Things that in our world are decided based on personal preference are rules in Blondee’s world. This eventually leads to terrible consequences when Blondee remembers marriage, finds a bridal magazine, and re-introduces heteronormativy and traditional gender roles into a world that operated rather smoothly without them. This shift is one of the many social commentaries embedded within the narrative, and it may potentially be the only one that I fully grasped.

There are a few warnings you should be aware of before picking this book up. There is a decent amount of fatphobia within this book, all dealt with in a very casual way. Suicide is also a theme, and while it is not omni-present, it is rather explicit when it comes up. [major spoilers]This book also includes the death of a queer woman and of several queer men [end spoilers]. There is also explicit sexual content throughout the book, if that is something you prefer to avoid.

Overall, Forget Yourself is a tightly woven, complex story that deeply examines our society, sexuality, and the personal in contrast to the general. While I did greatly enjoy this story, I must admit that a lot of what happened in the final section went over my head, leaving me confused and a little unsatisfied. A second read might be in order, now that I (sort of) know where everything ends up.

One final note about Forget Yourself: don’t be fooled by the quick pace. This book initially seems like a light, easy, mindless read. It isn’t. It really, really isn’t.

Danika reviews All Good Children by Dayna Ingram

all good children

This book is a trip. All Good Children is set in a post-apocalyptic world where The Over–huge, mythological bird creatures–have conquered the human race. Life goes on almost as usual, except that a good percentage of children are taken by the The Over for food and reproduction. Some are selected at birth, while others are taken in their teen years. Jordan has just reached the age where selection is made, and her ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) makes her a prime candidate for sent to one of The Over’s “summer camps”, where they decide unlucky teens’ fates.

All Good Children is told in alternating points of view, giving the perspectives of Jordan; her mother, June; and the Liaison between Jordan and The Over, Heaven Omalis. Each of these perspectives fit together neatly, showing the ways that individuals fight and become complicit in a system where they have lost any sense of power or control. Jordan is a fascinating character to see in this situation, because she has no hesitation in making a stand against The Over, even when it severely compromises her safety, because she has no patience for authority. Omalis’s POV offers a glimpse into what it’s like to side with the enemy, and how someone could choose to partner up with ruthless overlords. At first I chafed against reading her chapters, because I couldn’t understand how anyone could let themselves be used in that way, but as I read on, that became the most compelling element of the story. June bridges the gap between Jordan and Omalis. She loathes the system and The Over, but she participates in separating parents from their children in order to give them over as food or worse. It becomes more difficult to judge Omalis for her method of survival, when June has chosen a similar, though less extreme path.

I was surprised at first to find that Omalis was the main queer character–I had pegged Jordan as a swaggering queer girl–and at first rankled at the villain of the piece being queer, but I shouldn’t have doubted Dayna Ingram. Omalis is a complex character even when you hate her, and the relationship she has with Marla is intriguing. (Luckily, I didn’t need to pick, because Jordan’s swagger is also of the queer variety!)

This is a short read–under 200 pages–but it manages to convey this world and an engaging plot without seeming rushed. Dayna Ingram has a gift for imagining rich and disturbing worlds. Although The Over are fantastical, the rest of the world seems brutally realistic. I was hooked from the first fire-and-brimstone chapter, and was kept clinging on until the very last page. Eat Your Heart Out is one of my favourite books (who can resist lesbians and zombies?), and All Good Children definitely lives up to those expectations. Disturbing and enthralling, All Good Children is the queer post-apocalyptic YA we’ve been waiting for.

Danika reviews Smoketown by Tenea D. Johnson

smoketown

 

I was intrigued by the first sentences of Smoketown:

Anna Armour had had her fair share of failed resurrections. There had been the lichen when she was three and the dragonfly at six–the sad twisted platypus that her mother took away before it ruined her tenth birthday. Since the day of her mother’s death when Anna was fourteen, she hadn’t brought anything back to life.

This is a book that plays with genre. I picked it up expected a dystopian novel, which it kind of is: it takes place in a post-global-warming world, but that’s only part of the story. At times, this felt more like a series of interlocking short stories than a novel. Smoketown is only 197 pages, and it bounces between three points of view (Anna; Eugenio, a researcher of the Crumble; and Rory, who has been living in isolation ever since the disease spread). Each has their own backstory and motivation, and between that and the complex setting, it began to feel a little crowded.

Anna lives in Leiodare, a city which survived the epidemic called the “Crumble” decades ago, and reacted by banning birds from within the city. Already this is more at work that I expect from a dystopia, and that’s ignoring the magical element of Anna’s abilities.  The setting is remarkable, though. In addition to this description of the post-climate change landscape, it also describes new technology and religion, with enough slang to seem realistic but not distracting. The detail that goes into the consequences of these changes was impressive. For instance, the outlawing of birds leads to ongoing infestations of insects, and human callers are hired to imitate birdsong after the silence becomes overwhelming.

I also found Anna’s storyline fascinating, especially her mysterious relationship with Peru and her budding romance with Seife. The idea of her powers was also compelling, but I would have liked more of this element to the story. The actual plotline, and Eugenio and Rory’s contribution to it, I found less interesting. The mystery aspect seemed fairly straightforward, and I found Rory especially to not be a necessary POV character.

It’s a shame that the plot didn’t pique my interest, because I loved the setting, and I would really like to see another story set there, or even just more from Anna.

SPONSORED REVIEW: Danika reviews All the Devils Here by Astor Penn

AlltheDevilsHereFS

If you’re like me, you have observed the dystopian/post-apocalyptic YA trend and thought “Yes, great, but where’s the lesbian version of this?” Don’t worry. It exists. All the Devils Here takes place after the worst has already happened. The majority of the population has been wiped out in a massive pandemic, everyone else is on the run, avoiding both the infected and the mysterious governmental (?) units roaming in vans–promising safety but delivering gunshots and kidnappings.

I thought it was interesting that the book starts here, with Brie already having been on the run for a while, and having adapted to this new reality. I would have expected to start at beginning of the outbreak, following her as she escapes New York, but instead we get this backstory summarized later. It shifts the focus from how this happened to the process of surviving. And that is what the narrative revolves around: not any specific goal or path, just the relentless determination to survive at almost any cost. Despite the genre, I didn’t actually find this a fast-paced book. It is short, but although Brie is a survivor and active in her perseverance, the plot revolves around things that happen to her and then her attempts to deal with it. Through no fault of her own, she is a passive agent with very little control over her life in this cutthroat landscape.

The arc of the story is not so much the plot as it is Brie’s understanding of how she has changed as a person in order to survive, and her relationship with Raven, who begins as an extremely reluctant ally and becomes a vital person in her life. There is a bit of an element of insta-love in this, but it’s more understandable in the context of a dystopian future where any human contact is unusual. I do wish that we got more from Raven as her own person as opposed to Brie’s perception of her, however. She permeates the novel in Brie’s fixation on her, but we don’t actually get to learn a lot about her. In fact, my biggest problem with this book is how Raven is described. She is referred to constantly by her (dark) skin color, which is once compared to mud. She is repeatedly described as a “wild thing” (when she’s not the “prettiest thing”). Brie makes a lot of assumptions about her based on her appearance, which considering that she knows pretty much nothing about her other than her skin color, seem pretty racist: she assumes that Raven is a “lost girl” with no relationship with her family, who left home too young. She contemplates whether Raven was a sex worker in her former life. There is absolutely no context as to why Brie is making these assumptions about her other than her appearance and the fact that she is alive and alone (which, of course, Brie–a pampered boarding school student–also is).

I found the governmental agency to be the most interesting element of the story. We know that they are taking people in vans against their will, and there are rumors of camps that are being set up, but we don’t know the motives of this organization. I couldn’t help but think that these people very well could have a cure and be trying to help survivors, but there would be no way to know this as a person hiding in the woods. Because of the lack of any source of media, these people in hazmat suits are a complete wild card. [vague spoilers, highlight to read] Even as we learn more about this group of people, they remain morally grey, which I thought was interesting. In some ways they are the villains of the piece, but they are also the only reason humanity has any hope of a “civilized” future. [end spoilers] 

I found All the Devils Here to be an interesting concept, but it wasn’t the fast-paced thrill ride I expect from this genre. I did like the examination of what it takes to be a survivor in situations like this, and how it affects a person’s perception of themselves, and I’m happy to have a queer addition to this genre, but I was looking for a little bit more from this in terms of plot. And I found Raven’s depiction disappointing. This was a mixed bag for me, but if you’re interesting in a survival story with a bit of lesbian romance thrown it, All the Devils Here is worth the read!