War Girls: War is hell

War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsWar Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsWar Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi

Onyii is a battle-hardened soldier, weary of war.

She’s 15.

Her adopted sister, Ify, is even younger and a budding tech genius. The two live in a rebel compound of Biafran girls, hidden by a signal dampener from the Nigerian government. Tochi Onyebuchi gives the reader a little quiet time in the camp, to meet the characters and learn about the technologies they use — and then the camp is discovered, and a riveting battle scene begins. Onyii and Ify are separated, swept apart into two very different lives on opposite sides of the war, each believing the other dead. They will meet again four years later, as enemies.

War Girls (2019) is based on the real-life Nigerian Civil War, but moved forward into the 22nd century. There are cybernetic body enhancements, maglev cars, and giant battle mech suits. But one thing never changes: war is hell. Onyebuchi skillfully explores the way war changes the people who fight in it: the way people dehumanize the other side, the fact that even people with admirable goals might still resort to unethical means to achieve them, and especially, the effects of the war on the child soldiers expected to be war machines when they’re really just kids.

War machines in the literal sense, in this case, because some end up with bodies more mechanical than human. Their minds and hearts are still human, though, and it’s bittersweet but beautiful to see how love, in various forms, still asserts itself among these young people who have been shown so little of it.Rebel Sisters by Tochi Onyebuchi science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviews

This is pretty heavy stuff for YA, but I’d say that older teens who can handle books like The Hunger Games can probably take War Girls too — though its grounding in real-world events makes it harder to detach from.

There are a few places late in the book where the narrative logic seems a bit shaky. This is particularly the case with [highlight here to view spoiler] the girls’ rescue by Xifeng; I was left wondering both how she physically managed it, and how she happened to be there at that exact moment in the first place.  This feels like a deus ex machina, and I reread the scene a few times to make sure I hadn’t missed something.

Overall, though, War Girls is an excellent book, both exciting and thought-provoking. There are intense battle scenes and lots of cool tech, and in between all that, you’ll also find complex relationships and heroic sacrifice, and learn about a period in history that isn’t often taught in school. A sequel, Rebel Sisters, will be released in October 2020, and I’m eager to read it, but War Girls is self-contained enough to stand alone. Definitely read Onyebuchi’s Author’s Note at the end, which further explains the background and suggests some more good books to read. War Girls is a finalist for the 2020 Locus Award for Best Young Adult Novel.

Published in 2019.  Two sisters are torn apart by war and must fight their way back to each other in a futuristic, Black Panther-inspired Nigeria. The year is 2172. Climate change and nuclear disasters have rendered much of earth unlivable. Only the lucky ones have escaped to space colonies in the sky. In a war-torn Nigeria, battles are fought using flying, deadly mechs and soldiers are outfitted with bionic limbs and artificial organs meant to protect them from the harsh, radiation-heavy climate. Across the nation, as the years-long civil war wages on, survival becomes the only way of life. Two sisters, Onyii and Ify, dream of more. Their lives have been marked by violence and political unrest. Still, they dream of peace, of hope, of a future together. And they’re willing to fight an entire war to get there. Acclaimed author, Tochi Onyebuchi, has written an immersive, action-packed, deeply personal novel perfect for fans of Nnedi Okorafor, Marie Lu, and Paolo Bacigalupi.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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