GENRE: Dystopian (light on the scifi)
HEAT LEVEL: Explicit (one scene)
WARNINGS: Lots. Racism, homophobia, sexism, xenophobia, anti-refugee sentiments, murder, suggestions of rape etc. This is all presented all abhorrent, and most of it isn't detailed or explicit, but those confronting themes are there and some readers may wish to be aware of this going in.
Rise of the Resistance by Jackie D is, overall, a solid dystopian fiction that finds itself caught somewhere between being a thought-provoking and didactic political thriller, and a fairly typical lesbian romance with a generic futuristic backdrop. As a fan of the former who is somewhat tired of the latter, this was a difficult book for which to write a review.
Kaelyn Trapp, otherwise known as Phoenix One, is cryogenically frozen — one of a chosen four— sleeping away seventy years until the time is right to stage a coup and overthrow a morally bankrupt government. Arrow, Kaelyn’s guardian, a true believer in what this (potentially ignorant) Australian reader can only best describe as ‘the American Dream’, an idealistic woman of integrity, has worked her whole life to prepare for the war to come. What isn’t to love about this plot?
Exploring a future in which men like Donald Trump have not only been allowed to rule, but have been elevated to the cult-like status representative of many of history’s authoritarian dictatorships, this novel has plenty to offer. The ‘President’ and his heir, both MacLeod, make for fascinating reading. Jackie D explores how racist, homophobic, xenophobic leaders manage to seize, manipulate, and maintain power.
“First, he paid off a major media organisation. Its sole purpose was to discredit the others until people who were loyal to him only tuned in to that outlet…Next, he started to discredit our FBI…It didn’t matter how many of his statements were proven as lies, or how horrible his remarks about women and minorities…”
And I have no doubt that this novel has been inspired by a deep-rooted societal concern about Trump:
“Nora sat on the couch. She ran her hands down her form-fitting red dress. She was perfect. Hell, if she hadn’t been his own daughter, he probably would’ve tried to sleep with her by now.”
Nora, MacLeod’s daughter, is the character I found the most fascinating in this story. She’s deplorable in many ways, but also far more intelligent than her father, and the only member of the cast to do something that I found genuinely surprising. Nora is a political mastermind working within a patriarchal, sexist framework in which the inequalities of today have been exacerbated and even legalised. If Nora appears in the next book in some significant capacity, I’ll be reading it.
Kaelyn and Arrow are likeable, but also unremarkable. Kaelyn is said to be the absolute best person to restore democracy and freedom, but some aspects of her personality and supposed expertise struck me incongruent with this claim. She is good at giving speeches filled with a lot of platitudes and patriotism, but many of the finer aspects of leadership are left to the reader to assume. There were also some instances where her lack of knowledge (probably more for the reader’s benefit so that Arrow or her mother could then deliver an explanation) didn’t make sense to me. That said, I suspect she is meant to personify the traits of American culture that are most admirable, an ideological foundation of fairness and compassion. Which is just kinda nice, really.
Arrow is almost nauseatingly ‘good’, the proverbial knight-in-shining-armour, where even her faults are positive. I didn’t mind either of the two leading ladies, but I also didn’t feel particularly connected to the pair because they were presented as practically perfect. When someone in the novel pointed out the fact that these two were in their positions of power and influence because they’d been born to the ‘right’ families, I cheered a little. It had been frustrating me that two people, both born to presidents and living a fairly protected life, were apparently the only ones who could save America (and this is very much a book steeped in all things American). Arrow is a warrior who has a few action scenes that many readers will enjoy. I was pleased to see that Arrow didn’t resort to fatal gunshots as her first method of defence (or attack).
The romance between Kaelyn and Arrow is, I imagine, what many readers will come to see. Given that the relationship frustrated me because it kept detracting from the dystopian elements I was enjoying so much as well as what I perceived as deep repetition of the “we shouldn’t go there because we have a duty to others” trope, lots of people will love it. But this is what I meant earlier when I said this book was, I thought, caught between wanting to be a standard romance ‘lesfic’, with the meet-desire-angst-denial-more angst-give in-deny again-HEA plot line many know and love, and a speculative fiction with a heck of a lot of meat on its bones.
Readers like me will want less focus on the internal dialogue attached to the relationship and more exploration of the dystopian setting and its deep-rooted psychological conflicts. Romance-lovers will possibly want to see the reverse. You can see why this review got so long, right? I mean, I love parts of this book, but I also wanted to skip sections.
I have my fingers crossed that subsequent novels in the series will explore characters ‘on the ground’ so to speak, looking at History From Below. I think this will really draw out those complex social and political concepts that are there, but not quite developed. I’d be really interested to hear from anyone else who has read this one. What did you think?!
PURCHASE from AMAZON, BOOK DEPOSITORY, or BOLD STROKE BOOKS.