Seventeen year-old Riven comes from a world ravaged by a devastating android war, a parallel world to Earth. A Legion General, she is the right hand of the young Prince of Neospes. In Neospes, she has everything: rank, responsibility and respect. But when Prince Cale sends her away to find his long-lost brother, Caden, who has been spirited back to modern day Earth, Riven finds herself in uncharted territory. Thrown out of her comfort zone but with the mindset of a soldier and in a race against time to bring Caden home, Riven has to learn how to be a girl in a realm that is the opposite of what she knows. Will Riven be able to find the strength to defy her very nature? Or will she become the monstrous soldier she was designed to be?
The cover for Amalie Howard’s The Almost Girl really caught my attention when it was launched and when I read the blurb I looked forward to the chance of reading this. When I started the book I was a bit disconcerted to get a huge Terminator vibe from the book. Not that the specifics of the two are very similar, apart from Riven being sent from a parallel world that felt very futuristic and where there had been an AI war, but it did remind me of it. However, this vibe quickly faded and then I was just sucked into the story and didn’t emerge, or should I say evert, until I finished the book.
Told from Riven’s first-person viewpoint, she’s the story’s beating heart. I thought she was a wonderful character and one that goes through and interesting transformation. She starts out as an angry, mission-driven, and lonely individual and she ends this book in a completely different place. She’s still a professional soldier, but she’s let down her walls and let in her emotions and I really liked how Howard effected this change. Riven has a wonderful chemistry with Caden and I spent the book rooting for them to get together, but it’s not Caden that changes Riven, or at least he only is one of the reasons she grows and not even the most important one. While the romantic element of the story was lovely, it’s also about more than Riven and the boys. It’s about Riven and Riven, because she finally learns the truth about herself and her family. She learns to understand and trust herself fully, not just the rational part of her, but her emotional side as well. And she finally understands the true nature of Neospes society thanks to her time in our world.
Neospes and its tech are fascinating and politically it’s also an interesting place. It is very much a dystopian world, with an almost post-apocalyptic feel. Neospes’ limitations on robotics and AI development makes for some interesting inventions to keep to the letter of the law but still be able to have the advantages of androids and other AI tech. The Vectors, who are for lack of a better description zombie androids, are gruesomely inventive. And they inspire a particular sense of dread, especially the later iterations. However, there’s also a bit of authorial handwavium, where the tech seems plausible, but I still had a lot of questions. For example, if Earth and Neospes are parallel worlds, what happened to make their development diverge so much from each other? How are they so alike, yet Neospes seems to be centuries farther along in its development? How come they all speak the same language? What I did like is the idea of everting sickness; not just the fact that jumping between the worlds is physically harmful, but that those who evert to Earth from Neospes are somewhat allergic to our reality. It did make me wonder whether that shouldn’t work both ways. Wouldn’t Earth-born humans be allergic to Neospes?
Despite some of the more scienc-y questions it raised and its echoing of the Terminator vibe in the beginning, I had a fantastic time with The Almost Girl and I can’t wait for the second half of the duology to discover how the story resolves. The Almost Girl is a clever, exciting novel with the perfect dash of romance thrown in. Howard writes a compelling story – she throws in some really ingenious twists to the plot, which ratchet up the tension to page-flipping, “can’t put this book down” heights – in a very readable writing style, which makes for a very smooth reading experience overall.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.