Notes on Diversity:
SO. MUCH. DIVERSITY.
The book follows a tight-knit group of erstwhile superheroes–and most of them are dealing with mental and/or physical disabilities. A number of them are clearly people of color. The main character is a trans woman, and she’s basically the best!! There is am interracial queer poly family that is sweet and functional.
Diversity is firing on all cylinders here. A toast to that.
What if there was a magic cure-all drug that could fix what was wrong with you?
What if that drug had….side effect?
What if that drug was addictive?
Parole is a city filled with people who, for one reason or another, took a drug to make their lives better. Maybe it fixed something, and maybe it broke something else. Everyone in Parole has a story to tell, and everyone in Parole has their secrets. Everyone in Parole also has powers from the drug they took. Some of those powers, like Jenny Strings’ ability to make the dolls dance, are eerie but harmless. Some of those powers, like Finn’s tendency to accidentally cause explosions when he’s upset, even the slightest bit upset, are…less harmless.
As much as Parole is a city it’s also a prison–walled, fenced, monitored constantly. There are kill lists and secret police. And living in Parole isn’t easy with the constant broiling underground fire. The underground fire threatens to swallow the city whole, and everyone in the city knows that the forces outside Parole won’t step in to save anyone once it goes. But someone in the city has a plan to save it.
The story hinges on the histories of the characters and their present relationships. It’s a character-driven story masquerading as a thriller. Yes, there are fight scenes. Yes, there are epic Walks Though Fire.
But, really, the tension in the book is derived from character after character coming to terms with their own pasts. What’s beautiful here is how Sylver mines the characters for different narrative arcs. One central character gets redemption. Another gets closure. Another gets to make an admission of love. Still another character’s arc develops beautifully over the course of the book–she has to confront her PTSD, unravel her assumptions about another character, reconfigure her life–but the ending of the book places her in a position that sets up the second book rather than giving her resolution.
I especially loved the rootedness of the characters’ diversity and arcs given that the worldbuilding and conceits of the Parole as a setting were wild. Regan, one of the main characters, is a lizard-man. Rose, another main character, is a plant-woman with prosthetic legs built for her by her wife. The book features a sympathetic zombie named Zilch. Truly weird shit happens in Parole, but the emotional lives of the characters rang very true for me all the way through.
I loved this book. I love that, for once, I as a trans, queer person with disabilities was precisely, squarely the target audience for a book. Holy fuck how cool is that!
And the book works. Sylver’s writing is tight and quippy. The characters have chemistry with one another. The plot has tension and stakes.
I can’t wait for the next book.
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