Rise of the Red Hand by Olivia Chadha | ARC review

I was given a free digital ARC in exchange for a honest review.

This review is spoiler-free!

51mpbmvlwflTitle: Rise of the Red Hand
Series: The Mechanists, #1
Author: Olivia Chadha
Expected publication: January 19, 2021
Publisher: Erewhon
Category: YA
Genre: sci-fi
Pages: 384
My rating: ★★★☆☆ (2.5)
Goodreads page

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A rare, searing portrayal of the future of climate change in South Asia. A street rat turned revolutionary and the disillusioned hacker son of a politician try to take down a ruthlessly technocratic government that sacrifices its poorest citizens to build its utopia.

The South Asian Province is split in two. Uplanders lead luxurious lives inside a climate-controlled biodome, dependent on technology and gene therapy to keep them healthy and youthful forever. Outside, the poor and forgotten scrape by with discarded black-market robotics, a society of poverty-stricken cyborgs struggling to survive in slums threatened by rising sea levels, unbreathable air, and deadly superbugs.

Ashiva works for the Red Hand, an underground network of revolutionaries fighting the government, which is run by a merciless computer algorithm that dictates every citizen’s fate. She’s a smuggler with the best robotic arm and cybernetic enhancements the slums can offer, and her cargo includes the most vulnerable of the city’s abandoned children.

When Ashiva crosses paths with the brilliant hacker Riz-Ali, a privileged Uplander who finds himself embroiled in the Red Hand’s dangerous activities, they uncover a horrifying conspiracy that the government will do anything to bury. From armed guardians kidnapping children to massive robots flattening the slums, to a pandemic that threatens to sweep through the city like wildfire, Ashiva and Riz-Ali will have to put aside their differences in order to fight the system and save the communities they love from destruction.

[ This synopsis was taken directly from Goodreads. ]

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I really wanted to like this book. It is everything I like in a classic YA novel: it has a slightly post-apocalyptic, sci-fi, dystopian feel with a non-white cast of characters. What drew me to this book was that people compared it to Legend by Marie Lu and Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi. Also, I was excited to read a sci-fi/fantasy book set in South Asia.

I’ll start with the good stuff.

I really loved the world and storyline. Most of the post-WWIII YA books out in the market focus on the aftermath in America. It was interesting to see someone’s take on the effects of a third world war on a different culture. I love the idea of a band of resistance fighters against the evil of the corruption in Central. I loved the Big Brother feel of Solace, which is an algorithm that was created to choose who got to stay in the technological haven of Central and optimizes a person’s brain. I loved the idea of enhanced cyborg body parts being a part of everyday life after a big war. Basically, I liked the idea of the story. However, it fell flat for me for several reasons.

The first 30% of the book was super hard to get through. I genuinely was considering DNF-ing this book because of how much trouble I had getting through the story. The biggest problem was the writing. There were parts of it that had no flow and felt super choppy. It was the most evident with the characters. For example, one moment Ashiva and her friend are having a perfectly normal conversation, and the next, Ashiva is steaming mad. Yes, Ashiva is established to have a short fuse, but I wish there was something to indicate that she was becoming angry (maybe a clench of the fist or jaw, furrow of the brow, tensing of the body, anything at all). Because there is little to no body language described in the story, all the characters’ emotions feel very sudden.

The romance between Ashiva and Riz-Ali felt forced as well. Riz went from being scared of Ashiva to crushing on her in a blink of an eye. There was nothing to imply that he was developing feelings for her (and frankly, there weren’t a lot of good reasons he would fall in love with her to begin with given the situation he was in). It was like when Jon Snow and Daenerys made out in the last season of Game of Thrones (before they realized they were related). There was no chemistry or emotional tension before they became romantic partners. Or when the Witcher met Yennifer for the first time (in the Netflix TV show), it went 0 to 100 real quick. All this sudden development of emotions within these characters gave me whiplash.

It didn’t help that I didn’t care for the characters, either. They have a lot of potential, but they come off as two-dimensional. People IRL are complex creatures with a lot of different factors playing into their identity and personality. These characters felt very one note, black and white. Either they were either good or evil. Strong or weak. Brawn or brains. There were one or two things that made up their personality. For example, Ashiva is the fighter who is always angry. Taru is fragile and good at science. Riz-Ali is the black sheep of his family and a hacker on the side. Plus, the dialogue between the characters was clunky and awkward. Once again, there was no flow within the conversations.

One small thing I liked was the glossary at the end. I don’t know any South Asian languages/dialects, so it was nice to have translations to refer back to whenever I came across a word I didn’t know. Because it was put at the end of the ARC, I didn’t know it existed until I was finished with the story. I hope they put it in the beginning when it’s officially published so that readers know it’s there.

Despite all the issues I had with this book, I don’t want to discourage anyone from reading it. We need more stories from different cultures, and I think this book is the step in the right direction. If you’re a fan of the Legend series by Marie Lu, there’s a high chance you’ll like this. If you’re looking for a YA sci-fi/dystopia diverse read, this might be the story for you. I’m still willing to give this author another chance in the future, and I’m interested to see what else she’ll release.

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I give Rise of the Red Hand 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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Stay awkward and amazing!

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