Guest Review: Kieran Shea – Koko Takes a Holiday

Today I have something different for you. It is a guest review by my husband Wiebe. He is a very different reader than I, putting books away if they don’t work for him or if he gets bored by them. He’s a very picky reader. There are a number of books that I get sent, which for reasons I don’t get around to reading and sometimes Wiebe will pick them up—or even fight me to read them as soon as they enter the house. I’ve long teased him that if he’s reading my review copies, he should review them and he’s finally taken me up on that. It’s his first review ever, so be gentle with him. Hopefully, this will be the first of many!

kieranshae-kokotakesaholidayFive hundred years from now, ex-corporate mercenary Koko Martstellar is swaggering through an early retirement as a brothel owner on The Sixty Islands, a manufactured tropical resort archipelago, known for its sex and simulated violence. Surrounded by slang-drooling boywhores and synthetic Komodo dragons, the most challenging part of Koko’s day is deciding on her next drink. That is, until her old comrade Portia Delacompte sends a squad of security personnel to murder her.

Koko Takes a Holiday by Kieran Shea is a book I picked up because of its cover. It looked like anime/manga art and reminded me a bit of Cowboy Bebop, with a bit of retro styling in bright colours. The blue hair reminded me of anime in particular. Coincidentally enough, it read a bit as an anime series as well. It has a dense world full of stuff, but set in the background of a fast action shounen story. 

We begin with the introduction of Koko, the main character, blasting away the people sent to capture her and follow her on a crazy, action packed ride through a semi-dystopian future setting, where the setting never eclipses the main plot or the action. For me it was a fast read and an enjoyable one. Even though there were one or two points in the story where my adult, logical side went: “hey, this is a bit off for me”, I was immediately drawn back to the story, and I finished it in a day and a half.

I compare it to Japanese anime because in those series, like in this book, the characters are not always fleshed out completely, taking a back seat to the action, same as the world building. Koko feels a bit like this to me throughout the book. I never identified completely with the Koko behind all the action, even at the big plot reveal at the end. Also the casual killing she does, although logically perfectly in line with the changed morals of the future setting, made it less possible for me to identify with the character and immerse myself fully in the story.

The other main character, Jedidah Flynn, is a bit off for me too. This is not because he is badly written, in fact it is because he is written so well. His condition makes him a bit frustrating to read. And in a complete role-reversal he really needs his princess to rescue him. That character trope always makes me groan and scream at the characters to take some initiative. As long as that is done in my head, the writer has done a good job. When I throw away the book in frustration, the writer is in deep trouble and I usually don’t finish the book.

The world building is rich, but takes a back seat to the story. It fails to tickle my epic bug, but in this book such things would distract from the action and would be detrimental to the story. Through explosive infomercials in between the chapters, Shea feed us bits of information about the world. Through flashbacks and small info dumps in between the action the rest is filled in. The world is not overly techy or hard to understand. This future setting is more in line with humanities more basic emotions of greed, power and vengeance. I like the fact that it did not read as a futuristic western, with heavy American-settler undertone, despite the fact that it is a rebuilding world, where the author could easily have gone that way.

That being said, the story is fast and enjoyable enough to more than make up for these minor issues I had with the characters. I like the fact that this dystopian future is an equal opportunity sexual harassment suit waiting to happen. Also the less complicated morals of an ex mercenary make light reading of otherwise boring heavy stuff. Kick-ass Koko is, despite her flaws, a character to remember, possibly a source of inspiration for an RPG character of mine in the future. All in all Kieran Shea’s Koko Takes a Holiday felt a bit like a comic in written form, like an action movie or something… indefinable but good.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.