It’s hit or miss picking books off a list of new releases. Sometimes you are just betting solely on whose PR person writes the better blurbs. With Wesley Chu’s “The Rise of Io”, however, the PR set the hook and Chu reeled me in.
I found “The Rise of Io” on the very first monthly new releases article I wrote, back in October of 2016. I said then “It sounds like there is a sense of humor here. I’ll give it a shot.” Well, it was a good reason to buy a book, and the book delivered on what the blurb writer said. I love an honest blurber.
The book centers around Ella Patel, a small, young woman who lives in a slum in India after a great war had changed the landscape of Earth. Ella is a street smart con artist and smuggler who will find a way to profit in almost anything she does. She has been on her own since her parents died in the war, when she was 9 or 10 years old, and has made a bit of a name for herself around the city she lives in.
“The Rise of Io” is a continuation of Chu’s earlier Tao series of books, which introduced the Quasing, an alien race that ended up stranded on Earth eons ago. On Earth, each Quasing is unable to survive without an animal host, most often humans although sometimes an alligator, as the Quasing have a quest to return to their home, the Eternal Sea, and require their hosts to help them do that.
The Quasings, as symbiotic beings, had long ago split into two factions, the Prophus and the Genjix. In the early days, both factions subscribed to the Conflict Doctrine, which simply put, pushed humans into conflict with each other because conflict bred innovation, which the Quasing needed to develop the technology they would need to get home. The Genjix were much more assertive in their actions, believing humans were just a means to their end. The Prophus cared more about their human hosts and because of this divide, a war between the factions had ensued.
The book begins when Ella, in the wrong place at the wrong time, witnesses a woman killed by a group of bad men while another man looks on. With the woman dead, her Quasing alien must leave her body. To the surprise of both Ella and the man looking on, the Quasing, Io, chooses Ella, and the story begins.
Many books suffer from a lack of two things, good character development and/or an original story. So many stories these days are retellings of other established works or, just twists on previously successful releases. I imagine that has something to do with the lack of risk-taking that modern publishers are willing to engage in. “The Rise of Io” suffers from neither of those things. Ella Patel and Io are two unique characters, in their stubbornness, their self-consciousness, and their wit. Both are strong-willed to a fault, but neither believes in themselves when they stray even a bit outside of their comfort zones.
Take these two characters, who suffer some of the same character flaws, and link them inextricably in the same body, and it turns into a great battle of wills. Add to it a healthy dose of snark and the book brings more than a few laughs along the read. What I particularly liked was that neither character is the same in the end as they are in the beginning, and the changes are not contrived, but logically arrived at after the difficulties they face together.
Chu also uses the book to tell two stories. After Chapter 11, when we have most of the players introduced and exposition rolling, Chu starts each chapter with a brief narration by Io, who tells her own story of her life on Earth.
The book is set in Crate Town, a slum in India that is constructed of stacked shipping containers that people purchase as homes. Chu’s power of description really brings Crate Town to life with a cast of supporting characters that are as hardened as the steel walls that make up their homes. Yet they are all filled with unexpected dimensions that make them endearing in their own way. Chu has really done a great job of developing characters, major and minor, in this book, and Crate Town is most certainly a location in need of a movie, so long as it brings those denizens along.
The book is not as epic as I thought it would be. I don’t know why I believed that it was an all over the world story. Instead it is a single location action novel, with believable and exciting action scenes that kept the pages turning. I particularly liked that the chapters were, for the most part, short enough that you were always near enough to the end to get there before quitting for the night.
A last thing worth mentioning was that there were several great and unexpected twists along the way. Lots of good “Oooh, never saw that coming moments.”
One of the few criticisms I have for the book is that it took me awhile to get going. I did find myself dragging through some of the exposition and relationship building of the early chapters. Once it kicked in, however, I was hooked and plowing through. At 348 pages, it may have been a tad bit too long. Stick it out though, it is worth it.
Final Score 9/10
Overall, a great read. It was filled with all of the things I love in a book – action, sympathetic and interesting characters, political intrigue, a well thought out and believable setting, and enough humor to keep me chuckling, but not enough to pull me away from the seriousness of the adventure they were on. Like I said earlier, this book needs to be a movie. If done right, it’ll be fantastic. Wesley Chu is certainly an author to pay attention to, and add to your reading list. I am looking forward to a time I can circle back and read the Tao books.
+ Really compelling characters that I cared about. Both major and minor. Ella Patel is a really great character.
+ Fantastic setting.
+ Unique story with some great and unexpected twists and turns.
+Witty and funny.
– Exposition and relationship building took a bit long.
What’s your favorite new work of sci-fi or fantasy? Share it in the comments below.
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Pete Herr is the author of “10 Things We Should Teach You In High School and Usually Don’t”. He is the oldest geek in the Geekiverse by a factor of two. Follow Pete Herr on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram . If you don’t he gets Grumpy. You don’t want to see him Grumpy.