Greta is a Duchess and a Crown Princess. She is also a Child of Peace, a hostage held by the de facto ruler of the world, the great Artificial Intelligence, Talis. This is how the game is played: if you want to rule, you must give one of your children as a hostage. Start a war and your hostage dies.
The system has worked for centuries. Parents don’t want to see their children murdered.
Greta will be free if she can make it to her eighteenth birthday. Until then she is prepared to die with dignity, if necessary. But everything changes when Elian arrives at the Precepture. He’s a hostage from a new American alliance, and he defies the machines that control every part of their lives—and is severely punished for it. His rebellion opens Greta’s eyes to the brutality of the rules they live under, and to the subtle resistance of her companions. And Greta discovers her own quiet power.
Then Elian’s country declares war on Greta’s and invades the prefecture, taking the hostages hostage. Now the great Talis is furious, and coming himself to deliver punishment. Which surely means that Greta and Elian will be killed…unless Greta can think of a way to break all the rules.
Good for people who enjoy: post-apocalyptic, LGBT protagonist, strong female lead, robot versus human
Review: What strikes me about this book is that I didn’t want to like it. Erin Bow has a unique writing style that at first I didn’t care for, but now it’s one of my favorite things about the book. Bow writes from the first person and very informally. I thought it was strange, but every time I put the book down I’d pick it back up five minutes later. Why? The book got me thinking.
The main character Greta is someone I truly enjoyed reading about. She’s a duchess and Crown Princess so she’s strong, but she’s also a Child of Peace and therefore weak. She’s complex and intelligent and very diplomatic. Throughout the book you see the world she thinks she knows shattered in front of her all because of a boy, but the way Bow goes about it is so unconventional that you’re on the edge of your seat.
Perhaps one of my favorite exchanges between Greta and the all-powerful robot overload is when she tells him that no, she’s not doing this for the boy she loves – in fact, she’s falling in love with her (female) best friend, Li Da-Xia or “Xie”, the Daughter of the Heavenly Throne. The boy Elian changed her life, not by coming in on a horse to save her, but by coming in shackled in chains to doom her.
The world Bow creates in clear cut and no-nonsense. If her people go into war, Greta will die. Her only concern is to do so gracefully and with honor. In fact, the entire novel starts with one of her lifelong friends being brought to his own death. Her thoughts? At least he’d be proud his nation won. When I think to Greta of that scene, and then the Greta at the end of my book, I’m so overwhelmingly impressed by such a drastic growth arc that felt so natural when reading.
I was brought very quickly into this world ruled by Artificial Intelligence. It’s the kind of world where when you’re back brought into this one, the ‘real world’, you start thinking. This world feels a little less real because your mind is so deeply invested in this one created by Bow.
This review is unique in that I don’t want to go more into the book, because somehow I feel like anything I can say would be a spoiler. All I can say is that I read this book from the library, and it’s so good that I’m now buying the hardcover so that I can read it whenever I like, and you should do the same.