Published by Angry Robot on October 4 2016
Genres: Science Fiction
Our reviews of this author: The Days of Tao
The Lives of Tao and the subsequent books in Chu’s fantastic series were some of my favorite books from the past few years, so you can image how excited I was to find out he was starting another series set in the same world. The Rise of Io takes place some years after the Tao books (and I say “some years” because I’m not exactly sure how many) and contains many of the elements we’re familiar with, if you’ve read that series. But this time the setting is Surat, India, and the main character is a tiny but fierce and plucky girl named Ella Patel. Like Roen before her, Ella is thrust into the life of the quasing against her will when she unwittingly becomes host to a Prophus named Io. But Ella and Roen couldn’t be more different. Ella might be one of my favorite fictional characters ever, I simply loved everything about her.
But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. If you haven’t read the first series, here’s a little background about this world. The quasing are an ancient alien race who crash-landed on Earth millions of years ago, and since then have evolved and managed to survive our unbreathable air by using animals, and later humans, as hosts. At some point in our history, the quasing split into two factions: the Prophus, who want to live in harmony with their human hosts and who appreciate all the various forms of life on Earth; and the Genjix, those quasing whose only drive and purpose is to conquer humanity and crush anyone who opposes them. Because of the quasing’s influence, all of the most important events in history have been shaped by either Prophus or Genjix, acting through their hosts. To simplify things, the Prophus are the good guys and the Genjix are the bad guys.
Ella Patel is a nineteen-year-old survivor of the Alien World War who has made a home for herself in a place called Crate Town, after the war decimated the economy in India. Ella has lived on her own for the past nine years, gaining street smarts and business acumen, running cons with the locals. She’s made enough money to buy her own shipping crate which she calls home. Everything is status quo in Ella’s life until one night she happens upon a fight between a young woman and two men. Despite the woman’s keen fighting skills, she’s killed in the battle, and as Ella rushes to help her, she unwittingly becomes host to the woman’s now host-less quasing, a Prophus named Io.
Ella is terrified and angry with this sudden voice in her head, who she can’t seem to escape, but she soon learns that as a quasing host, she has grave responsibilities. The woman who died, an operative named Emily, was about to uncover a secret plot by a group of Genjix in Surat, and now Ella has been tasked with taking over her mission. With a team of trainers and other loyal Prophus hosts to guide her, Ella reluctantly joins the mission to uncover the mystery of something called the Bio Comm Array, a machine the Genjix are building, right in Ella’s backyard.
If you know my reviews at all, then you’ll know I’m a huge fan of well-done humor in the novels I read, and true to form, Wesley Chu’s latest is full of exactly the kind of snarky dialog I love most. Many of the conversations between Ella and Io are simply priceless. (Come to think of it, Ella is hysterically funny no matter who she’s talking to!) Ella is shocked that she’s expected to share her headspace with an alien, especially one as annoying as Io, and although she can’t physically do anything about it, she tries her best to simply ignore the voice in her head, a voice that is trying to order her around. Ella has literally had to survive on the streets, and so she doesn’t take shit from anyone, especially a stranger. Over time, their relationship becomes more civil, but Ella continues to make it clear that she’s on her side first and foremost.
As he did in the Tao books, Chu begins each chapter with a short description of quasing life, this time told from Io’s point of view. Io tells of her long journey to Earth and how for millions of years she occupied creatures like plankton and eventually animals, before finally moving to a human host. Io’s tale is one of failure. She has tons of ambition but she’s never been lucky enough (or perhaps talented enough) to influence her hosts into doing great things. It was sort of sad, but I love the idea that not every quasing is as smart as Tao, and eventually Io grew on me.
I loved that Chu used India as the setting this time. The Tao books have always had a global feel to them, and this one fits the trend of showing how far the quasing reach is. Crate Town especially was a brilliant invention. The people who survived the war did whatever was necessary to keep going, and eventually they took over abandoned shipping containers and turned them into houses. The containers are stacked four or five high, to create a sort of city, and I could easily imagine what this looked like.
This brings me to one of my few issues with the book, however, and the reason that I didn’t give The Rise of Io a full five stars. Because the story takes place exclusively in Crate Town and the surrounding area, there wasn’t the feeling of movement that I got from the first series, which had the characters changing location quite a bit. After a while the story seemed to go in circles as the characters continue to cover the same ground over and over. I understand that the outcome of the story hinges on what’s going down with the Genjix and the Bio Comm Array, but it would have been nice to change up the location a bit more.
But this is only a small thing, and most readers probably won’t be bothered by it. Chu brings back several characters from his Tao books, which was very cool, and he introduces a terrifying woman named Shura, who won’t let anyone stand in her way of seeing the Bio Comm Array project through to its end. Chu also gives us an unexpected twist in the form of a character who may be a double agent! Politics, changing loyalties, secrets, lies and high stakes—The Rise of Io has it all. At the end it’s chillingly clear what the purpose of the Bio Comm Array might be, and we have a good sense of what’s in store in the next book. (At least I hope there’s a “next book.”) I personally can’t wait to find out!