In Banghart’s (Moon Child, 2013, etc.) YA sci-fi novel, love, devotion, ambition and political scheming abound in a not-quite-dystopian future.
Although vaguely reminiscent of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games (2008) and Lois Lowry’s The Giver (1993), this tale quickly takes off in its own imaginative direction. Following the Peace Accords, the Five Dominions’ leaders now rule a post-famine, war- and natural disaster–stricken world. Women are deemed essential to rebuilding the population and thus forbidden from pursuing all dangerous activities. Teenage girls, along with some remaining young men, receive permanent tattoos representing one of four careers, or “life placements”: Health, Commerce, Technology or Environment. Crackerjack wing-jet flyer Aris Haan has her life figured out: She’ll be selected for Environment and work on the family farm, and her boyfriend, Calix, will be Health, and they’ll be Promised to each other. But Calix is unexpectedly assigned to the distant war effort, and Aris gets a surprising opportunity to fly. Thanks to new technology, and a secret training program, Aris can fight in the war and possibly get close to Calix. After she’s re-tattooed with the military insignia and fully disguised as a man, she joins a hidden network of military women. Throughout the novel, the focus shifts smoothly between Aris and Ward Galena, a top official who mysteriously disappeared after she announced sanctions against the Dominion behind the raging military conflict. Both Galena and Aris live outside societal norms and have past romantic ties that test their current decisions—and their fates are more strongly linked than they first appear. In the barracks, gender lines are blurred, love is tested, and intriguing possibilities arise, even if they aren’t always deeply explored; for example, what if a man is attracted to a man who turns out to be a disguised woman? What if the woman you love deepens her voice and shaves her lovely locks? And what if the face you see in the mirror isn’t always your own?
Part mystery, part romance, part sci-fi, Banghart’s fast-paced exploration of loyalty, identity and commitment is entertaining and intriguing.