TITLE: Hullmetal Girls
AUTHOR: Emily Skrutskie
RELEASES: July 17th, 2017; Delacorte
AGE RANGE: YA
SYNOPSIS: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.
ETA — SECOND THOUGHTS:
I had a lot of issues with the treatment of queer characters in this book, which I wanted to mention in my review, but didn’t know how to word things. The representations in this book are pansexual, ace/aro, and trans, and I don’t fall into any of these categories as a cis bisexual woman, so I wasn’t sure if I was imagining the issues I had, but after talking to friends and reading own-voice reviews, I am convinced that I was right in my initial thoughts.
The trans character is outed without her consent: the Scela have this group-think capability with their exos where they can actually “read” one another’s emotions and thoughts, and one of the narrators utilizes this to out Praava without any consent being given whatsoever.
The ace/aro character is forced to undergo a traumatic experience: during their time connected to each other’s thoughts, she actually has to witness visual and tactile memories of two of her fellow Scela having sex, which as reviewers like Heather and Leah pointed out, is an incredibly insensitive way to out this ace/aro character, as well as flippantly portraying what is an incredibly traumatic experience for many ace/aro people (this is even a tactic used in “corrective rape” for many ace/aro people, and if that doesn’t drive the point home of how harmful this scene was, I don’t know what will).
On top of the poor content, the author has taken to invading reviewers’ private spaces by harassing them on social media, and more. It’s been a bad look all around, and has sadly quite probably removed Emily Skrutskie’s other works from my TBR. You can read more about that here, with screenshots and receipts attached.
Between the problematic content and the fact that this book was already a 2.5 at best for me, I’m lowering my rating to 2 stars and will more than likely not be picking up future releases from this author.
A lot of my friends have really enjoyed Emily Skrutskie’s The Abyss Surrounds Us duology, so when I was offered a copy of Hullmetal Girls for reviewing, I jumped at the chance because I assumed this would be pretty noteworthy, too! Sadly, it fell short of my hopeful expectations in a few ways, but it wasn’t a total loss.
This is what a Scela is meant to be. A living weapon, a replacement for the ancient guns that blew holes in the hulls of ships we lost so long ago that their names are no longer taught.
The Scela themselves are a really interesting feature to me, and it’s the biggest reason why I think this was a book with an amazing plot and a slightly lacking execution. The Scela are people who have been given a robotic exoskeleton to wear on their backs, which drills into their nervous systems and feeds commands and information to their brains. They’re also surgically altered to be taller, bigger, and tougher, and altogether, it’s a fantastic twist of body horror in what would otherwise be a strictly science fiction story.
My favorite part of the book was learning about how the exos work, the surgeries required to become a Scela, and the features that came along with it, such as their group-think capabilities and the options for them to exert their willpowers and commands over them teammates or inferior colleagues. I thought this whole idea was super unique and would translate beautifully to the silver screen.
But I’m not Scela. I’m a human being trapped in the metal they made me wear.
Unfortunately, where Hullmetal Girls fell short for me was the characters themselves. There are two perspectives—Aisha Un-Haad and Key Tanaka—but I feel like the story develops much more in Aisha’s POV chapters than Key’s. Some of Key’s chapters are only a couple of pages, compared to Aisha’s 10-15 page chapters, and it made the entire storytelling technique feel unevenly weighted. I actually told my buddy reading partner about halfway through the book that I wished Key’s POV didn’t exist, because if the whole thing had been told through Aisha’s perspective, I could have stayed in the story better.
I also felt like some of the characters—Aisha especially, in the second half—were making choices and displaying behaviors that felt very bizarre compared to their original personality constructs. As someone who analyzes characters relentlessly (I can’t help it, it’s who I am as a reader), this sort of issue breaks my immersion fast, and it became a common struggle in the last 150-200 pages.
I may not be a useful Scela yet. But I’ll be damned if I’m not a useful sister.
The plot itself is intriguing enough once you get a little ways in (it does start off slow), but again, it lost me in the ending. Things happen that feel unnecessary and provocative for the sake of simple shock; they’re incredibly detrimental, yet they don’t carry as much emotional weight as they should.
All in all, did I love this? No, I didn’t. That said, I think this book could be good for a lot of readers, and I’ll probably give Emily’s writing another chance eventually.
Buddy read with one of my faves, Heather (see her review here)!
Thank you so much to Delacorte for providing me with this finished copy in exchange for an honest review!