Adrianne was walking home when a piece of scaffolding hit her head. Now wounded and ailing, she wonders why her partner, Antoine, isn’t more worried, more careful, when taking care of her. He is about to leave, she realizes. Her world is about to change.

Their story is interrupted briefly by a computer code.

It restarts.

Adrian is grieving because his partner, Antoine, is dying. He goes out to the gym to hang out with the guys—his weekly moment of succour—then he is back home to the desperate final moments with his beloved.

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The code runs again. Everything shifts.

Now Adrianne is a vestal virgin impossibly in love with a soldier off to war.

Then Antoine and Adrian are brothers trapped in a world that seemed to be ravaged by a different war (or is it the same one?).

Lovers, siblings, parent and child: the ever changing nature of two characters’ relationship and emotional connection moves the story forward in a mind-bending (but not difficult) progression toward a perfect ending that brings everything together.

Two things remain the same and this is key: someone is always leaving and the world is always changing.

This is a debut?

In Greek mythology, Elysium is the equivalent of paradise, a perfect place, the afterlife for the heroic, the virtuous, the chosen ones. That definition was always at the back of my mind while I read Elysium: as the world crumbled around its characters, as the ever-evolving environment shifted and altered, I continuously wondered where paradise was. What paradise was.

Freedom and love. Emotional connection. Survival.

The glitch in the narrative: in spite of all the wonderful iterations of Adrian(ne)/Antoine(tte) which included several lesbian, gay and bi relationships, I could not help but feel that the moment the story becomes focused, more straightforward, and more centralized on two main characters, those prove to be frustratingly heteronormative and traditional: a love story between a man and a woman—with the woman dying to give birth to their son—is the central motivation that creates the conditions for the narrative to exist as it is.

It is also unfortunate in its cisnormative and clichéd depiction of a trans character: Helen is a trans woman who is constantly addressed as Hector by other characters and the narrative itself. Worst: Helen’s heroic moment is her Tragic Sacrifice to save other characters just because one of them saw her “for what she was.” Bullcrap to the max: in a book that is so progressive in its LGB portrayals, the T in the rest of the LGBT acronym is sadly problematic to the extreme.

Despite those—and I am fully aware I can only say this because of my cis-straight privilege—I loved Elysium

Your mileage may vary, your mileage should vary.

Here is why I loved it: it works on many different levels, provides a wealth of narratives, characters and topics that together form a body of work that is impacting, thought-provoking, and moving. Ecology, Apocalypse, First Contact, Gender, Feminism, Race, War, Survival, AI, Historical Drama. It’s all here, altered by observation and always reflecting a basic encryption built somewhere in the past—or is it the future?—to last forever, to be observed forever, but only by the right people. Us.

In Book Smugglerish: for me, it’s 8 out of 10, with the strong reservations expressed above.

Thea James and Ana Grilo are The Book Smugglers, a website for speculative fiction and YA. You can also find them on Twitter.