Aisha Un-Haad would do anything for her family. When her brother contracts a plague, she knows her janitor’s salary isn’t enough to fund his treatment. So she volunteers to become a Scela, a mechanically enhanced soldier sworn to protect and serve the governing body of the Fleet, the collective of starships they call home. If Aisha can survive the harrowing modifications and earn an elite place in the Scela ranks, she may be able to save her brother.
Key Tanaka awakens in a Scela body with only hazy memories of her life before. She knows she’s from the privileged end of the Fleet, but she has no recollection of why she chose to give up a life of luxury to become a hulking cyborg soldier. If she can make it through the training, she might have a shot at recovering her missing past.
In a unit of new recruits vying for top placement, Aisha’s and Key’s paths collide, and the two must learn to work together–a tall order for girls from opposite ends of the Fleet. But a rebellion is stirring, pitting those who yearn for independence from the Fleet against a government struggling to maintain unity.
With violence brewing and dark secrets surfacing, Aisha and Key find themselves questioning their loyalties. They will have to put aside their differences, though, if they want to keep humanity from tearing itself apart.
**** Thank you to Delacorte Press for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!****
Update: I have mentioned the potentially triggering content involving LGTBQ+characters in this book, characters being outed involuntarily in a manner I didn’t agree with. However, I have also seen the author invade a reviewer’s private space also in a manner I don’t agree with so unfortunately I don’t think I’ll continue reading her work. It isn’t right for a reviewer to feel that their opinions can be attacked. For more information on this please refer to this post where the controversy is discussed including screenshots.
Trigger Warnings: Child Death, Body Horror, Non-consensual outing of LGTBQ+ Characters , & Semi-Graphic Descriptions of Medical Procedures
Buddy Read with the lovely Destiny @ Howling Libraries (check her review out here!)
No one is more disappointed with this rating than me, “Hullmetal Girls” has been one of my most anticipated reads for 2018 since back in 2017. However, it just didn’t live up to my expectations, it wasn’t a terrible book and I can see other readers enjoying it but it wasn’t for me either.
First of all I thought the story was very lackluster and downright tedious at times. I feel like I read an entire 300+ pages full of nothing, there didn’t really seem to be any sort of direction for the plot. If I were going to try and describe the plot it would be: group of mechanized super soldiers, also there’s some stuff about the governing body and a rebellion. That’s it. No specific group really comes out to shine, it’s just a jumble of the three and the government and rebellion are grappling for power. Overall I was pretty bored while reading and that really disappointed me.
One thing about the story that I did like were the Scela, the mechanized super soldiers I mentioned. They were interesting and pretty unique, people undergo intense body modifications and surgery in order to be merged with the mechanical bits. They are also able to be fed orders and information via these alterations. This is also where the body horror comes in and for those of you who don’t know body horror is a subgenre of horror in which someone goes through some sort of violations of the human body. This isn’t intensely graphic by any means but the surgery portrayed at the beginning of the story could make some readers a bit queasy. It’s an interesting combo with sci-fi I thought and the Scela were the most interesting part of the book for me.
However, in the book there is a link the four characters share where they’re all essentially in each other’s head-spaces. No hiding anything. While I thought it was an interesting concept I don’t think it was executed in a great way. I know that the idea of sharing your innermost thoughts is horrifying and I know that is what Skrutskie was going for but at the same time I felt this was a little too invasive. For instance: one of the characters is outed as being transgender involuntarily because of this link. There’s another instance where two characters had sex and the memories and images are forced into everyone’s heads as a result of the link, thus outing a character as aroace. I personally thought this was a pretty insensitive way of handling the revealing of the characters’ sexualties and gender identities.
There were also two alternating POVs: Aisha and Key. I found Aisha’s POV to be more interesting and relevant than Key’s, every time we would switch to Key’s I found myself getting a lot more bored. I honestly think we could have done without her POV completely as it didn’t really add all that much to the story, it could have all been easily told from Aisha’s POV only.
Another thing I didn’t enjoy was how the exos/Scela equipment changed the character’s personalities. I can understand making them a little more “tough” but there were scenes where characters went completely out of character and that was really jarring. It made me feel like I wasn’t even reading about the same characters anymore and that I didn’t really know them.
A couple last points as well: the pacing felt slow, there wasn’t a ton of action, and there were essentially no plot twists (at least none that felt like a shock to me). Also there wasn’t all that much world building, especially for being a sci-fi.
The characters were a little “meh” for me, although they were much more interesting than the plot. My fave character is definitely Aisha especially since she’s one of the only characters that gets any development or personality. As for Key, well I didn’t like her during my entire read-through she was just unlikable plain and simple. She thought of herself as better than her squad mates just because of her status in the caste system. We didn’t really get to know much about any of the other characters though so I wasn’t really bothered to care a whole bunch about them.
There is quite a bit of diverse representation with the characters: Aisha is a Ledic which is inspired by Islam, Key and Woojin are Asian (though it’s never stated on page), and Praava has darker skin though her nationality is never stated on page either. Praava is also transgender, Aisha is aroace, and Woojin is pansexual.
There was a bit of romance in “Hullmetal Girls” but like with everything else it was messy and odd. As I mentioned earlier there was a sexual relationship between two characters, although I’m not sure to what extent the relationship progressed. And there is an odd relationship that Key develops with someone that just felt….well odd and also out of nowhere, like a romance for the sake of romance. Overall though there wasn’t any romance overshadowing the plot.
What I Loved:
- The Scela and their mechanics
- Diverse cast of characters
What I Didn’t Love:
- The plot was boring
- Involuntary outing of LGTBQ+ characters
- Key’s POV was unnecessary
- Character’s personalities were inconsistent
- Pacing felt slow
- Not much world building
- The romances were “meh”
I know I’ve said it a few times already but I was so sad that I found this so disappointing. I really, really wanted to like it more but there wasn’t much for me to like. I can’t even say I’d really recommend this for the diversity since I found the outing of the characters to be really insensitive. However, if this still sounds interesting to you go ahead and give it a shot, it may be to your liking but it just wasn’t for me.