February 19, 2018

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The Swan Riders by Erin Bow | SLJ Review

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redstarBow, Erin. The Swan Riders. 384p. (Prisoners of Peace: Bk. 2). ebook available. S. & S./Margaret K. McElderry Bks. Sept. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481442749. YA-SP-Bow-The Swan Riders

Gr 10 Up –This sequel picks up shortly after the conclusion of The Scorpion Rules. Greta Gustafson Stuart, former princess of the Pan Polar Confederation, is a newly minted Artificial Intelligence. In agreeing to become an AI, Greta has saved herself and fellow hostage Elián Palnik while avoiding the wrath of Talis—the all-powerful AI who rules the world with the judicious use of satellite weaponry, carefully chosen hostages, and his Swan Riders, who act as part army and part cult. Greta is the first new AI in more than a century. Haunted by memories of her time as a hostage growing up at Precepture Four—including torture, friendship, and Xie, the future queen and the lover Greta had to leave behind—the protagonist struggles to cling to what is left of her humanity while learning about her capabilities as an AI. With the future of the world hanging in the balance, Greta will have to use everything she knows about being AI and human to bring her two dramatically different worlds together. Quick recaps and Greta’s own memories bring readers up to speed in this fast-paced sci-fi novel, although having knowledge of the first book is ideal. Bow dramatically expands the world here by introducing more of the landscape as Talis, Greta, and two Swan Riders travel across Saskatchewan toward the AI home base near Montana. Interludes from Talis’s point of view—in his present form as an all-powerful AI and in flashbacks to his time as the idealistic Michael Talis, who wanted to save the world—add another dimension to this disturbingly likable character. Weighty subject matter and heavy questions about what is best vs. what is right are tempered with humor and Greta’s wry first-person narration. Like its predecessor, this installment has a thoughtfully diverse cast of characters with familiar faces and newer additions, including Francis Xavier, a stoic, dark-skinned Swan Rider born with one hand. VERDICT A fascinating follow-up and stunning story that is a must-read for fans of the first volume.–Emma Carbone, Brooklyn Public Library

This review was published in the School Library Journal August 2016 issue.

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