Review: Hullmetal Girls by Emily Skrutskie

Books Science Fiction

I had high hopes for Hullmetal Girls by Emily Skrutskie. There were quite a few good things about it, but it ultimately did not work for me.

Hullmetal Girls CoverAisha Un-Haad would do anything for her family. When her brother contracts a plague, she knows her janitor’s salary isn’t enough to fund his treatment. So she volunteers to become a Scela, a mechanically enhanced soldier sworn to protect and serve the governing body of the Fleet, the collective of starships they call home. If Aisha can survive the harrowing modifications and earn an elite place in the Scela ranks, she may be able to save her brother.

Key Tanaka awakens in a Scela body with only hazy memories of her life before. She knows she’s from the privileged end of the Fleet, but she has no recollection of why she chose to give up a life of luxury to become a hulking cyborg soldier. If she can make it through the training, she might have a shot at recovering her missing past.

In a unit of new recruits vying for top placement, Aisha’s and Key’s paths collide, and the two must learn to work together–a tall order for girls from opposite ends of the Fleet. But a rebellion is stirring, pitting those who yearn for independence from the Fleet against a government struggling to maintain unity.

With violence brewing and dark secrets surfacing, Aisha and Key find themselves questioning their loyalties. They will have to put aside their differences, though, if they want to keep humanity from tearing itself apart.

Goodreads

I received an eARC of Hullmetal Girls via Netgalley, courtesy of Delacorte, in exchange for an honest review. 

When I heard about Hullmetal Girls, I was thrilled. I love queer military science fiction, and this was advertised as having an aroace character and a trans character.

I loved the world that Hullmetal Girls was set in. As you read, you can tell that Skrutskie put a lot of thought into the world surrounding the main characters. There were a few things that I wish were explained a little bit better – like what exactly the dyeworks were and why they were so dangerous – but overall, I enjoyed the worldbuilding. I loved the idea of the Scela and why they existed in this story.

This needs a content warning for outing without consent through a neural network, major surgery, loss of control of bodies, anti-Islamic-like religion statements, body horror, sibling death, terminal illness, and an aroace character witnessing memories of sex through a neural network.

I thought that everything was too easy for most of the characters. None of them really had any agency of their ownThe plot was something that science fiction and dystopian novel readers will be very familiar with, and I thought Skrutskie skipped the best part of the novel at the end when she jumped to the epilogue.

I really think where this book really failed was its queer representation. One of the female squad members is described as having XY chromosomes, but it’s never touched on again.  Aisha Un Haad, one of our two point of view characters, is aroace. However, the only time it’s mentioned is after she stumbles into two of her squad mates’ memories of having sex through the neural network that they share, which several aroace reviewers have mentioned as being very triggering and reminiscent of corrective rape. That’s when one of those squad mates comes out as pansexual. That’s also never mentioned again.

Hullmetal Girls takes place mostly within its character’s heads. I felt that we really should have seen a little bit more of the attraction or anything like that.

Consent is a huge theme in this book, thanks to all of the characters being in each other’s thoughts and memories, so I understand what Skrutskie was aiming for here. However, I don’t think those particular moments really worked in this story. It felt to me that Skrutskie was trying to make it clear that their queerness wasn’t a problem in this world. I think she just took it too far and it wound up being entirely inconsequential, making those scenes feel pointless.

If she had taken more time with these moments and really unpacked them, or dealt with them later on in the story, it would have worked a lot better.

Overall, this book just didn’t work for me. If you want some queer military science fiction, I would recommend Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit trilogy.

ABOUT *BOOK TITLE*

Title: Hullmetal Girls

Author: Emily Skrutskie

Publisher: Delacorte

Length: 320 Pages

Release Date: July 17, 2018

Rating: ★★ / Two stars

Genre: Military Science Fiction

Representation: hijabi main character, aroace main character, pansexual side character, asian main character, trans side character

 

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