Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Me on The Swan Riders

Title: The Swan Riders
Author: Erin Bow
Release Date: September 20, 2016
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry (Simon & Schuster imprint)

Greta Stuart has become AI. New transmitters have silvered her fingerprints. New receptors have transformed her vision. And the whole of her memory has become one book in a vast library of instant knowledge. Greta is ready to rule the world. But the new technology is also killing her. Greta is only sixteen years old, but her new enhancements are burning through her mortal body at an alarming rate. Of course the leader of the AIs, an ancient and compelling artificial intelligence named Talis, has a plan. Greta can simply do what he's done when the time comes, and take over the body of one of the Swan Riders, the utterly loyal humans who serve the AIs as part army, part cult. First though, Greta will have to find a way to stay sane inside her new self. Talis's plan for that involves a road trip. Escorted by Swan Riders, Greta and Talis set out on a horseback journey across the strange and not-quite-deserted landscape of Saskatchewan. But there are other people interested in Greta, people who want to change the world... and the Swan Riders might not be as loyal as they appear.

The Swan Riders is tense, full of gambles and plots and plans. It's a look at what it is to be human, what makes us human, and the lengths we will go to in order to keep our humanity. In order to keep those around us human and sympathetic.

Greta, now an AI with a failing human body, is struggling with a number of problems. One is the decaying of her body. The memories that overwhelm her, that remind her what she left behind. The torture. The quiet moments with Xie. It can hold her AI consciousness for a time, but not forever, and one day she'll have to pick a new body if she wants to continue to move around. Another is Talis, for a number of reasons. And one is the Swan Riders, the army of young people who've volunteered to be the bodies for the AIs. As a former princess, a girl turned captive in order to keep the peace, she knows the Swan Riders as murderers. As angels coming down to Earth in order to carry out justice, to kill the royal children of the parents that dare go to war.

Talis. Oh, Talis. You never expect an AI to be so layered. But circumstances have changed. Talis has changed. Meeting Greta. Being in Rachel's body. The journey to the Red Mountains. His relationship with Greta has changed, from omnipotent intelligence vs stoic princess into something more of a friendship, a companionship. Greta has changed Talis, just as he changed her.

Knowing there would be a follow-up to the punch in the gut that was The Scorpion Rules, I wasn't sure what I expected to find here. More Greta, more of the struggle between her human emotions and her new AI brain, yes. More Talis being amoral and calculating, of course. But I don't know that I expected this. This exploration of what it is to be human. This look at devotion and faith, at the lengths we go to in order to send our message, our hopes, to those we look up to as gods. This book definitely expands on the world of the AIs and their Swan Riders, expands on purpose and end goals. This wasn't the book I expected, I'd hoped for a moment between Greta and Xie but it never happened, but I do think this was a good follow-up. I never knew what was going to happen, who was going to act first, or how Greta was going to fight back in order to keep those she cares about safe. When you read this, be prepared for another punch to the gut.

(I borrowed a copy of this book from the library.)

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