Review: Hullmetal Girls by Emily Skrutskie

Hullmetal GirlsTitle: Hullmetal Girls
Author: Emily Skrutskie
Genres: Young Adult Sci-Fi
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Aisha Un-Haad would do anything for her family. When her brother contracts a plague, she knows her janitor’s salary isn’t enough to fund his treatment. So she volunteers to become a Scela, a mechanically enhanced soldier sworn to protect and serve the governing body of the Fleet, the collective of starships they call home. If Aisha can survive the harrowing modifications and earn an elite place in the Scela ranks, she may be able to save her brother.

Key Tanaka awakens in a Scela body with only hazy memories of her life before. She knows she’s from the privileged end of the Fleet, but she has no recollection of why she chose to give up a life of luxury to become a hulking cyborg soldier. If she can make it through the training, she might have a shot at recovering her missing past.

In a unit of new recruits vying for top placement, Aisha’s and Key’s paths collide, and the two must learn to work together–a tall order for girls from opposite ends of the Fleet. But a rebellion is stirring, pitting those who yearn for independence from the Fleet against a government struggling to maintain unity.

With violence brewing and dark secrets surfacing, Aisha and Key find themselves questioning their loyalties. They will have to put aside their differences, though, if they want to keep humanity from tearing itself apart.

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Thank you so much to PRH International for sending me an ARC of this book. 

I was incredibly excited for Hullmetal Girls when I first picked it up.  I read Emily Skrutskie’s The Edge of the Abyss and absolutely loved it, and I had heard that the protagonist of Hullmetal Girls identifies as aroace. But, I also felt a little… scared. I don’t tend to read a lot of sci-fi so I felt a little intimidated (what if it’s too difficult for me? What if I don’t understand?), and a review had just came out which said that the marginalized characters in this book weren’t treated very well. I almost didn’t pick the book up because I was scared I was going to get hurt, but I had the ARC so I read it.

Did I end up liking the book? Ehm, that’s a difficult question, honestly. Let’s start with the positive.

The book is set on a spaceship that’s been trying to find a new home for 301 years. This ship is basically it’s own world, with it’s own people, it’s own customs, and it’s own politics. The political situation on board of the spaceship was incredibly interesting to read about, and it was one of the things that made me not want to put the book down. I just wanted to know what was going on, and what was going to happen.

I also quite enjoyed the characters. They all felt very much three-dimensional, and while reading I really began to care about these characters. There was also a mystery surrounding one character (memory loss, which is quite cliché but it worked) and wanting to find out what had happened and who this character was was the other thing that made me not want to put the book down. I’m just a nosy person, okay?

Sigh, and now for the less fun part of this review: the negative.

I honestly felt a little bored while reading the book, and I might have ended up DNF’ing it if it weren’t for the two previous points I made. It’s just… The book felt a little repetitive. The things that drove each of the main characters, the thing that motivated them, was repeated over and over again, and the plot didn’t really get interesting until the last 100-or-so pages, which I ended up flying through.

Then there were the descriptions… Usually, when I read a book, it’s like there’s a movie playing in my head and it’s wonderful. But with this book I just couldn’t really imagine how anything looked, which was incredibly frustrating. There was this one scene where they described what the ship(s) looked like and I read the paragraph over and over again and I just couldn’t envision it. But that could’ve been a total me problem.

And then there’s the fact that the trans character is outed without her consent, and the fact that the main character is an aroace hijabi, and that’s something that needs a lot of inersectionality, and I’m not sure whether it was handled in the best way.

I did enjoy the book at times, but it was very meh overall. I have to be honest and say that I’m quite disappointed because I expected a lot more from this book, and it could’ve been a lot better than it was…

(Trigger warnings: illness of sibling, death of sibling, death of parents, mass murder, body horror, aroace character forced to witness sex, outing of trans person, violence.)

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