The Swan Riders by Erin Bow. ★★★1/2
The Swan Riders is the sequel to the YA dystopia novel, The Scorpion Rules. I highly suggest reading the series in order. While I’ve been finding most of the YA dystopia genre pretty derivative, this series manages to be among the better half of what I’ve read, and it takes some turns in the road from the standard formula for the genre. Forewarning, this review will contain some inevitable spoilers for the previous book.
Greta has been transformed into an AI, and she will join Talis, the AI who rules the world. A version of Talis and two Swan Riders, the humans who serve the AIs, are accompanying Greta across the plains of a future Saskatchewan. But Greta’s country is on the brink of rebellion, and danger may be hiding withing the expanse of the desolate Saskatchewan plains… and it may come from the Swan Riders themselves.
Probably my favorite thing about this duology is the characters. In the last book, I loved Greta for her restraint and sense of duty. In this one, she’s dealing with the transition to being an AI. Anything that she had a prior strong emotional connection too can prompt a cascade failure, where her thoughts become trapped in a repeating loop. She has far more character growth than you usually see in the genre.
Talis is probably the best antagonist overlord character I’ve yet to come across. He manages to be somewhat sympathetic… while still blowing up cities and controlling the world with an iron fist. He’s snarky and arrogant and gets a ton of great lines.
In general, this duology has been slower paced than is the norm for the YA dystopian genre. At times it works, but at other times the book seems to drag or to move to quickly. The plot construction ended up feeling sort of messy.
However, if I ever make a recommended reading list for the YA dystopian genre, The Swan Riders and it’s prior book will certainly be on it. I’m glad I ended up giving this series a try.