The Cruelty of Love: A Review of Godslayers, by Zoe Hana Mikuta

            Modern day storytelling tends to embrace the model of the three-act structure.  Meaning that our stories—whether they be books, movies, or video games—have a beginning, a middle, or an end.  The first act is the establishment.  It introduces characters, their relationships, the setting, and the inciting incident that leads into the plot.  The second act is the rising action, following the characters attempting to learn about or solve the issue set up in the first act.  However, the second act cannot lead to a resolution just quite yet, leading into the third act.  This is the resolution of the plots set up, along with the climax.  The three-act structure is not a narrative structure for a single book, however.  This is the reason why trilogies are so popular in modern fiction, with each book operating as a different act.  However, this structure is not the only narrative structure around.  The duology, or a story told in two books, may be less popular than the trilogy, but can in some ways be more satisfying to read.

            Godslayers is the sequel to last years excellent Gearbreakers by Zoe Hana Mikuta.  Together, these two novels make up a complete duology.  One single story told over the course of two books, without the need for a third.  A satisfying read for fans of the first book, Godslayers opens up shortly after the events of its predecessor, immediately dealing with the aftermath of Gearbreakers’ climax, which saw main characters Eris and Sona launching a destructive attack on the capital of the oppressive nation, Godolia.  The opening makes it clear that their attack was ultimately successful, killing all but one of the Godolian leaders.  However, the final pages revealed that the two of them had survived their suicide attack and were captured by the enemy.  In a three-act structure, the opening of this new novel would be like the opening of the third novel.  Success, but at a severe cost without a complete resolution.  Mikuta follows the tone she set in the preceding novel with this new book, placing the relationship between Eris and Sona at the forefront and keeping it as important to the plot as it is for character development.

            In some ways, the setting of Godslayers is like many young adult novel settings.  There is an oppressive government force who uses force to maintain control, but is accepted without question by citizens in its capital.  The main characters are all teenagers, rebels and outcasts in some form.  Queer characters are refreshingly common among the heroes.  Books like these show young adults that they do not have to stand for abuse and tyranny.  In the world of the book, the oppressive nation is Godolia, apparently the only remaining country on the planet following a devastating war long before our heroines were born.  Their leaders, the Zeniths, are worshipped as gods or divine beings, combining a fascist nation-state with religious extremism.  We never get a good look at the main nation, but we are told on the page that it contains about a billion people and is very technologically advanced.  Outside the country is the expansive Badlands, the remnants of a dry ocean.  Resource villages send food and materials to Godolia, while everyone else just struggles to get by.  Godolia maintains power with a legion of giant robot mecha, or Windups, controlled by cyborg Pilots.  These Windups are worshipped as man-made gods.  So, when one of them walks across the Badlands, it’s not just law enforcement.  It is a sign from the divine.

            In the previous novel, we did not meet many important characters on the Godolia side, being limited to Sona’s fellow pilots before her defection.  Here, however, the number of important characters we see in Godolia is limited to really just one.  The last remaining Zenith and total leader of Godolia, Enyo.  Like Eris and Sona, however, he is just a teenager, leading to a rather fascinating complication in the plot.  When the enemies are adults, it is a lot easier to justify meeting their violence with your own.  They are adults, they should know better, after all.  But when the enemy is another child, that is difficult.  Enyo works as an antagonist in part because we never see him do anything outright antagonistic as we only ever see him through Sona’s eyes, and she is brainwashed to love him.  We know he is the leader of Godolia, so we know that he is still engaging in the oppression of everyone outside Godolia.  However, he also shows genuine kindness and care towards Sona, and that care becomes central to the plot of the book.  He also serves as a reminder that children are still being hurt, on both sides of the conflict.

            Godslayers is a story about love, but it is also a story about cruelty and the effects of cruelty on people.  Not just the physical violence it can afflict, although there is that, but the emotional damage that comes with experiencing cruelty.  Godolia is shown to be incredibly cruel to everyone outside of it, not because the country hates those people, but because it sees them as less than.  They inflict cruelty with ease because they do not care about the people in the Badlands.  That cruelty then inspires people to rebel, but they only know how to meet violence with violence, so they become cruel and inflict cruelty back on their oppressors.  When someone you love is threatened or hurt, it is easy to push back with that same cruelty.  Mikuta goes out of her way to show the close bonds between Eris, Sona, and the rest of the gearbreakers, but also does not shy away how far they are willing to go to protect the people they care about.  It turns out that experiencing cruelty is an excellent motivation to want to fight back and stop more cruelty from being inflicted onto everyone else.

            Ending a story is a difficult thing already without the added worry of ending a story of a satisfactory enough note to please your readers.  However, Mikuta accomplishes this feat with the finale of Godslayers.  She never loses sight of what is important going into the climax of the story, and keeps us centered on the relationship between Eris and Sona to the very end, with special care towards the emotional damage each has suffered throughout.  It is safe to say that the finale of Godslayers sticks the landing.  Although not every lingering plot thread is resolved, they do not need to be.  I am confident that readers who have stuck with the story since the beginning will turn the last page and close the book happy.

Godslayers can be found in store, online, or wherever books are sold

Total Read Time: 7-8 days

Next on the List: The Golden Enclaves, by Naomi Novik

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