The Almost Girl, by Amalie Howard [#1]

Title:The Almost Girl (The Almost Girl #1)
Author: Amalie Howard
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Publication date: 4th January 2014 (UK)

TheAlmostGirl-144dpiThe Almost Girl by Amalie Howard is one hell of a book. Books like this make me very happy to consider myself a feminist ally. This book shows empowered women as well as reminding the human populace that guys can be vulnerable too. In this story, there’s no fairy tale princess being rescued by a prince. In The Almost Girl, try a science fiction, kick-ass soldier girl rescuing a hidden-away prince. Now that’s a turn of events—and one I loved. I had no idea how much I would love this book until I started it.

I do have a sort of sense of duty to Strange Chemistry and so I read their books. Who wouldn’t, given, Strange Chemistry’s excellent record of producing absolutely stellar titles? With the exception of a handful of books, their catalogue rocks so hard, my shelves are bowing under the weight of all that awesome.

My pretty little ARC of The Almost Girl is definitely going to be given a permanent home on those shelves, bringing up the general cool of the H section (yes, I alphabetise).

I’m astounded at how Howard manages to take so many elements I usually avoid in fiction and create an amazing book that I didn’t want to end, couldn’t put down and won’t stop talking about. I don’t like utopias or dystopias. Not one iota. Yet Howard manages to present a strange vision of a dystopian-utopia that is real and whole and interesting. Neospes is a world ravaged by a technology war; the oceans have dried up and the temperatures soar by day and plummet by night.

Riven is a soldier; a general. A traitor. Their way of life is regimented, with couples matched in regard to their DNA not their hearts. Love is not a factor. But their technology is astoundingly superior, with advances in medical and defence technology that far outreach the capabilities of the Otherworld. Earth. Our world. This oddly advanced (utopian) war-torn and monarchy-controlled (dystopian) world is Riven’s world; and she is just as tough and unyielding as Neospes itself.

Given specific orders by her best friend, Cale, to travel through the veil of dimensions to the Otherworld and retrieve something he dearly needs to survive, Riven will track her target and complete her mission—even if she is now branded a defector and must watch out for the elite soldiers of Neospes, the Vectors, who will take her back to her father before she can find a safe place to evert and get the hell out of there.

But everting is dangerous, and closely monitored. After all… hopping between worlds at will is eventually going to cause problems, like it already has done for Riven’s world, and ours in the past. Still, Riven has been careful—taking her pills, making sure the injection kit is safe and to hand—during her search for Caden, the boy Cale has sent her to bring back. She has been tracking Caden for years now, but she’s drawing close.

And so are the Vectors. They want him; she wants him. If the Vectors want Caden, they will have to go through Riven, and she’s the general of the Vector units. Even if they don’t listen to her commands, even if their internal programming has been changed, Riven won’t hesitate to destroy them if they get in her way. After all, they’re only dead things with dead eyes, programmed to follow orders.

Careful as she’s been, Riven’s one mistake—an accident and a close call after forgetting to take her evertion pills—leads her to her target. He’s right there and Riven knows what she has to do, knows it is Cale’s only chance. But Riven does what a good soldier should never do; she befriends the target. Caden, raised his whole life hidden from the eyes of Neospes, knows nothing of what he is or where Riven is from. He’s clueless—but he’s not alone. A face from Riven’s past makes things trickier, but Riven is a soldier and she’ll kill if she has to. She’s killed before. She’ll kill Shae if she has to.

Before Riven knows it, she’s teaming up with the target and Shae—and together, they need to outrun the Vectors. They want Caden too and they’ll stop at nothing to acquire him. They might want to take him back to Neospes, just like Riven, but their intentions differ from there on, and Riven refuses to fail.

Caden, oblivious to what’s really going on, follows Shae and Riven, trusting his life in their hands. Shae’s been at his side for years, always defending him and forcing him to train with a sword (fencing). But Riven is new and interesting and he feels a magnetic pull towards her. Riven, however, is ice-cold and proud of it. She will stop at nothing to take the target back to Cale. Nothing.

The Almost Girl is a story of self-discovery, conflict, both inside and out, and about how at the end of the day, we chose who to be, regardless of how we’ve been groomed or programmed. With a switch up of the damsel in distress routine, Howard allows two girls, both as different as night and day, to demonstrate their strength, agency and determination, whilst introducing a male character, a prince, who is defended by these girls. Caden is softer with his emotions than Riven—another nice change-up—and instead of the female protagonist prancing around all dewy-eyed with insta-love, it is Caden who falls first and falls hard. There is a wee element of insta-love here, but it is entirely quidditch, more of insta-crush-turns-love, and easily explainable! But to do so would be giving away spoilers, so…

Sometimes with the issue of feminism, people forget the other side. Guys. Girls can be strong; guys can be weak. It’s okay for guys to let the girls take the lead. That’s okay. I loved The Almost Girl because I could, happily, relate to Caden, even if just a little. He is not big and strong and oozing testosterone. He is lithe, he fences, and he is the one in need of saving, rescuing. And that’s totally okay. I’m thrilled with this book. Caden is the damsel in distress and the girls around him are going to save his ass. I want more action-packed YA with softer guys and harder, tougher girls. It makes it okay to not be macho, to not be a jock or to be six-foot-nine and play rugby or basketball. I’m all for girls with agency; heck, I want to be the guy whose ass needs saving. That’s totally more me.

The Almost Girl is the kind of book I want to see more of. More girls with agency to spare and a tough attitude that doesn’t use cockiness and bravado to compensate for real personality. 5-star copy

Riven is more likeable than she first seems (and definitely a girl I’d love to interview!), with a heart bigger than even she thinks. The Almost Girl is strong, fast and undeniably addictive. Pacy and full of quirks, Howard has written the first part of a duology that combines action and science fiction. With a ballsy heroine and a deeper plot lurking beneath the surface of what Riven knows, The Almost Girl is definitely a hit with me.

It is slick, cool and vastly imaginative.


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