Fourth World by Lyssa Chiavari. ★★★
I picked up this YA science fiction because I heard it had asexual representation. That turned out to be the only memorable thing about it.
Isaak is a teenage boy living on a future Mars colony. Then he sees a strange arch formation that almost exactly matches the depiction on an ancient coin belonging to his missing father. But how is that possible? There’s no such thing as ancient Martian civilization… right?
Most of what’s described in the official blurb doesn’t happen until much later into the book. Fourth World does not have a great start. It’s slow, and I’m bored by high school life even when it takes place on Mars. I want to get to the other worldly bits as soon as possible, and Fourth World takes forever to get there.
Isaak isn’t the only POV character. There’s also Nadin, who narrates the prologue and then disappears for a long stretch of time. Both characters are on the asexual spectrum. Isaak is explicitly demisexual – this is discussed in one scene towards the end of the book. Nadin is asexual (and sex repulsed) but doesn’t yet have the words to describe herself. She doesn’t consider that she might be different than most of the people around her until her fiancee kisses her non-consensually and then gets upset when she doesn’t want him. That was probably the rawest scene of the entire book and the point where I got the most emotionally effected. I’ve never been in Nadin’s exact situation, but I could relate to her thought process.
Unfortunately, outside of being rare ace spectrum characters, there’s nothing memorable about Isaak or Nadin. Nadin in particular feels cut from a mold – the sort of science fiction, YA heroine I’ve seen three thousand times before. It’s not that I disliked either Isaak or Nadin… it’s just that they’re completely forgettable. If you asked me to describe their personalities, I’d come up blank.
And that “forgettable” quality holds true for most of Fourth World. The world building is so-so, the pacing is boring, the plot never got me to care, and the prose is nothing to write home about. This book just didn’t feel well executed or inspire the slightest bit of excitement from me.
The only reason I’m giving this three stars is because I was happy with how it treated asexuality, but I’m not planning on reading the sequel.