Summary: The year is 2230 and young Violet MacRae is already obsolete. In a world where war is a distant memory and only brilliant minds are valued, she’s emerging into adulthood with more brawn than brains and a hell of a temper. That might come in handy though as someone’s coming to kill her.
Violet will discover that her peaceful world is more fragile than anyone thought, and only an underground of outcasts like her maintain the balance. She’ll enter a tangled web of secrets and slaughter, technology and genetics gone insane, super-advanced spycraft and no shortage of ultra-violence. It should suit her just fine, if she can survive.
Valhalla is a hard science fiction novel that blends epic action and unparalleled vision into a future as beautiful as it is brutal.
Review: This is an interesting novel that showcases a fine writing style and a dazzling imagination when it comes to world-building but falls short in characterization. The well-written blurb gives you a good feel for the story. This is a futuristic, overly controlled world run by corporations in which a fighter such as Violet has to wonder if she even has a place. At age seventeen, she loses her parents to a violent gang attack in a scene that has an oddly flat, satiric feel. Her resourcefulness ensures her own survival and brings her to the attention of “Valhalla,” an elite and secret society of warrior-peacekeepers who recruit promising young people like her.
She ends up in an isolated community superficially patterned after Norse mythology and is put in a squad with a brainy girl and a prankster boy. They are eventually joined by another boy with a knight-in-shining-armor complex. After extensive training and a disastrous initial mission in futuristic Siberia, Violet and her fellow squad mates graduate to full-time peacekeeping, which involves hunting down the gang leader responsible for the deaths of her parents. The ending leaves room for a sequel.
The tone of the book is fast-paced and satirical, much like author Max Barry’s novels Syrup and Jennifer Government. The world-building is the best part of the book and keeps you reading even through the slow parts such as Violet’s extensive training scenes because you can’t help but be curious to learn more about this futuristic world. Here is a sample of it:
”’Old ‘Alf’ has been killed at least seven times and retains only his original heart, head, and a few other assorted parts. Though nobody here will agree, he calls it a careless streak from his youth. The fact is, he has only been injured at all in less than half a percent of his missions, the sheer volume of which have made him the experienced cyborg he is today. Bit by bit he’s become laden with diverse machinery in his chassis, a body which he can fundamentally rearrange for any situation, even to the point that last year he managed to disguise himself as an industrial food blender to avoid detection during a recent raid.’ Violet eyed him in disbelief, but he showed no sign of having a sense of humor.” Ari Bach, Valhalla (Kindle Locations 1535-1540). Dreamspinner Press. Kindle Edition.
My only problem is that the characterization is somewhat flat and definitely prioritized below the plot. Violet seems to be no more than a vehicle through which to explore this dazzling world. I told myself not to expect an F/F romance though this book is published through Harmony Ink, the young-adult imprint of Dreamspinner Press, which is known for gay romance. Unlike Dreamspinner, Harmony Ink puts less emphasis on romance and seeks to publish books that present young adults who are gay or lesbian in a positive light.
Violet is a lesbian but her sexual orientation is extremely subtle and contributes nothing toward building her a personality. She does not seem to be authentically a lesbian, a woman, a seventeen year-old, or Scottish. Reading through her adventures, I realized that she could have easily been a generic, white, thirty year old American male. She is super-tough and super-competent and that sums her up. Occasionally I got a glimpse of a relatable person in her fleeting moments of insecurity (when she is rejected from the Scottish Army and her harrowing Siberian mission come to mind), but these instances are few and far between.
Since I love character-driven plots, I was not the ideal reader for this book which turned out to be plot-driven. But it’s well-written and very original for the right reader. I recommend it for science-fiction fans, but don’t go into it expecting a romance or a complex coming-of-age story.