I’d found in my NPR feed a story about a book based on chronic pain from a female perspective. A science fiction book based on it. There was no way I wasn’t going to read this.
It is what it says it is, and if you aren’t a big science fiction fan, this isn’t for you. It doesn’t get lost in too many details, but because this is almost an anthropological science fiction book, there is a learning curve on trying to get people acclimated to the new world rules. And it is a long read.
Everyone gets a magic power. It’s part of a “current” running through the worlds. All of them are unique.
The story follows two teens from two very different, and now warring cultures: Cyra Noavek (who appears as first-person) and Akos Kereseth (his p.o.v. is always second person). Cyra is from the nomadic and often displaced and abused Shotet. The Shotet are currently on the cold home planet of the less war-like more farm-oriented Thuve. Akos is Thuvesit, and being the oracle’s son, is captured and put into service for Cyra.
Cyra’s gift inflicts horrible pain on anyone touching her. And, as a result, she herself is in dire pain every second. Akos was given the power of interrupting everyone’s current gift-his touch can stop her misery. That is an interesting dynamic to read about. The way Cyra is dismissed and expected just to keep up while suffering is pretty realistic in terms of how women are called upon with withstand agony we probably couldn’t even explain.
If you haven’t heard already, this book came with some controversy. Roth is accused of being racist because Cyra, our warrior in the story, is dark-skinned and Akos and his people appear to generally be less so-although it is stated in the book there is no one look for either the Shotet or the Thuve. To think that, you have to be able to say you read the book and thought Cyra’s character was undesirable or flat or that the Shotet were. Cyra Noavek is the most powerful figure in the book. While used as a weapon by her abusive ruling family, she rebels against that purpose. Even when it costs her nearly everything.
The Shotet themselves are not this mess of hot-headed warriors but are under a dictator-like regime by a horrible figure. They have rebels fighting against the regime, too. It’s explained that they lost their homeland, their children, their everything and vowed to be able to defend themselves. As a result, they are overall very tough. You can see similar things in Riddick for example and even Dune. I am all for team kick-ass culture. I don’t think these things are inherently bad or evil and so having a hero born into one can’t be that way, either.
On the other hand, I can get why this might be a problem in our cultural climate. And, in some places in the book, I honestly had moments of “why would she write that??!”.
The worst for me was when Cyra’s mother was dressing her for an important meeting, and pulled her hair back, saying that she didn’t want the first thing these people noticed to be her wild hair.
Ouch. As a disclaimer, I grew up in a dysfunctional family where nobody looked like me. And I have insane hair. It was the first thing they always attacked, the first thing everyone tried to change or silence about me.
There is a possibility I read into it wrong, and maybe it’s a statement about Cyra’s mother’s undesirable character. She did, after all, allow her son to be tormented by his father until he was a monster.
But I darn sure didn’t want to read that in this book.
If you can get past some of that, which I’ll admit should have been cut in editing, you have a decent story about two youngsters from different cultures crossing a divide of danger and understanding in order to help and love each other. That is a good message. Overall, I still recommend it. It’s not perfect, though. And maybe future installments can be dealt with better.