Friday, July 8, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Daybreak Rising / Kiran Oliver

TITLE: Daybreak Rising (Daybreak Rising, #1)
AUTHOR: Kiran Oliver
PUBLISHER: Torquere Press
AVAILABILITY: Coming September 2016! Add it on Goodreads

Science Fantasy

Celosia Brennan was supposed to save the world. A dual-touched Elementalist with the ability to cast fire and see glimpses of her own future, she was supposed to take down the Council--an authoritarian government that oppresses Elementalists and treats their very existence as a crime--and free her people. But things went horribly, horribly wrong. Now, years later, she has a shot at a second chance. As a member of the Regime, an underground resistance movement, she trains and leads a group of eclectic Elementalists with powers ranging from ice-casting to speaking with the dead in an effort to overthrow the corrupt government once and for all.

But the past is hard to shake. With the Council's constant threat looming and in-fighting straining the team, the Elementalists find themselves up against overwhelming odds as they fight to restore freedom.

Pause for disclosure: I received a free e-ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. Also, the version I read was a pre-edited draft, so I'm not commenting on grammar or anything because at this point, it's beside the point.

Anyway, Kiran Oliver's fantastic superhero-esque novel occupies that weird territory between sci-fi and fantasy. If I had to pick one, I'd say fantasy just because magic is the driving force behind the Elementalists and what they do--plus, the book seems to take place on an alternate world. But there's also advanced technology, futuristic cities, and a dystopian government--staples of sci-fi. It definitely FELT like a superhero story... in fact, the combination of an government that sees innate gifts as criminal with an eclectic team of power-wielders reminded me of X-Men :-).

The book starts by introducing us to the members of the Ember Operative team one by one, starting with Celosia (of course). Let me start by saying that Celosia is one kick-ass character. Though she's haunted by her failure years ago and struggles with mental illness (PTSD and panic attacks), she takes crap from exactly no one. She's tough-as-nails when challenged, yet can be vulnerable and sensitive as well--in other words, she's a well-rounded character. Another favorite of mine is Ianthe, an ice-wielding Elementalist (kind of like a girl Frozone from the Incredibles movie) and Celosia's love interest. Yup, this is a queer book! (and #ownvoices as well!)

The Ember Operative team features the kinds of characters not often (if ever) seen in sci-fi/fantasy--queer characters, trans characters, non-binary characters, a blind character (and no, she doesn't use magic to "see"), characters of color (Ianthe was described by another reviewer as "badass brown Elsa"--which is totally accurate!). Oliver weaves in social commentary on a number of issues, from inequality to mental illness and more, and yet it's done in a way that makes it integral to the story and world-building. This is a book that explores issues, but isn't an "issues book." I especially found it interesting how the trans characters felt compelled to join the Council, which offers "plea bargains" to Elementalists who do their bidding in exchange for the right to live relatively normal lives, because this was the only way they could access the medical care to transition. As those who follow the news may be aware, the U.S. military recently announced that trans people could serve openly and would even cover the costs of transition... Not to say that the real-world military is anything like the dystopian Council, but the parallel was striking.

Anyway, DAYBREAK RISING is at its heart a fun and action-packed superhero story about a team of gifted individuals coming together and facing overwhelming challenges. Things really heat up in the book's third act, with danger and fights and more than one crazy twist. With memorable characters, edge-of-your-seat plot turns, and cool superpowers, this book was exactly my cup of tea.

Of course, it being the first in a series, it ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, but wrapped up the "Book One" stuff in a way that felt satisfying, even if it's going to be a bit of a wait before I get to read the sequel. If you're a fan of X-Men or enjoy action-packed science fantasy in general, then I highly recommend that you check this book out.

Kiran "CK" Oliver is a 2016 Southern New Hampshire University graduate currently majoring in Communications with a focus in Public Relations. He also attends Free Code Camp in the hope of earning a certificate in Full Stack Web Development. 

Kiran currently works as a freelance technology journalist, inspired by a past life as a Community Outreach intern at Learning Games Network. As a transgender person in tech, he strives to bring diversity issues to the table whenever possible.

When not daydreaming about lesbian pirates, queer lady paladins, or dragons, Kiran can be found at the gym or playing MMOs. He resides in New Zealand with his wife and their cat, Ember.

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