Review: The Swan Riders

The Swan Riders (Prisoners of Peace, #2)
Description (from Goodreads):

Greta Stuart had always known her future: die young. She was her country’s crown princess, and also its hostage, destined to be the first casualty in an inevitable war. But when the war came it broke all the rules, and Greta forged a different path.

She is no longer princess. No longer hostage. No longer human. Greta Stuart has become an AI.

If she can survive the transition, Greta will earn a place alongside Talis, the AI who rules the world. Talis is a big believer in peace through superior firepower. But some problems are too personal to obliterate from orbit, and for those there are the Swan Riders: a small band of humans who serve the AIs as part army, part cult.

Now two of the Swan Riders are escorting Talis and Greta across post-apocalyptic Saskatchewan. But Greta’s fate has stirred her nation into open rebellion, and the dry grassland may hide insurgents who want to rescue her – or see her killed. Including Elian, the boy she saved—the boy who wants to change the world, with a knife if necessary. Even the infinitely loyal Swan Riders may not be everything they seem.

Greta’s fate—and the fate of her world—are balanced on the edge of a knife in this smart, sly, electrifying adventure.

Full disclosure: I was slightly terrified to read this book. It came out last Fall, but I put it off until now. Why, you ask? This was one of those cases where the first book in the series set the bar so high, it would have been impossible to reach. But The Swan Riders comes damn close.

Another confession: I’m kind of over dystopia as a genre. Maybe it’s because I grew up watching Star Trek’s more optimistic view of the future, but I’ve always struggled with dystopia as a concept. Or maybe it’s also because I compare every dystopia I read to The Handmaid’s Tale and nothing measures up to The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s terrifying because in our current political climate, it feels like something that could actually happen! *shudders*

Back to The Swan Riders. I recall its predecessor, The Scorpion Rules, being a polarizing read: people either didn’t connect with it, had very mixed feelings about it, or they absolutely loved it. It was one of those books that incites a strong reaction either way. I was in the absolute love category: I appreciated the sophisticated level of storytelling, the character development, the Canadian connections, the diversity, everything. The Scorpion Rules was always going to be a tough act to follow for me.

But despite my lofty expectations, The Swan Riders is a solid follow-up. Without giving too much away (because things will get super spoilery if I do) the story arc that our favourite morally grey AI Talis goes through… wow. Not to mention Greta’s continued journey or the additional quality time we get to spend with my guy Elian. There’s so much thought-provoking stuff in unpack that I can’t explain it properly in a review, though I’d love to talk to someone who’s read it. There were also some new characters who stuck with me long after I turned the final page (Evangeline, you guys!) but a few of my faves from the first book were absent, which bummed me out a bit.

Report Card:

  1. Cover Art/Book Design: 8.5/10 A-. Visually striking, but I’m sad they changed the style from the first one! Now mine don’t match.
  2. Plot/Concept: 9.5/10 A+. Still solid.
  3. Main Character: 9.5/10 A+. I love Greta. She’s not everyone’s type of heroine, being so quiet and dutiful, but it’s been wonderful to see her find her voice and her power.
  4. Secondary/Supporting characters: 9.5/10 A+. I LOVE EVERYONE.
  5. Setting/Worldbuilding: 9.5/10 A+. Quality worldbuilding.
  6. Writing: 9.5/10 A+. The quality of Erin Bow’s writing style is a cut above.
  7. Pacing: 8/10 B+. This was my major quibble. While the first book was slower paced, the pacing remained even throughout. This one starts with a bang, but then it meanders a bit.
  8. Romance: 8/10 B+. I love Elian, but where was my Xie?
  9. Ending: 8.5/10 A-. A bit more open than I personally prefer, but well-handled.
  10. Overall: 80.5/90 = A. Somewhere between 4 and 4.5 stars. I had my worries, but things came together in the end. However, I will say that if you’re a mood reader like me, this is definitely the type of story you have to be in the mood for.