The fifth book I’m reviewing is Rise of an Orphan, the first book in the ‘Sky City’ series by R.D. Hale. The book defines itself as a biopunk epic (now there’s a genre you don’t hear about every day) and has overtones of science fiction, fantasy, and dystopian fiction. It was also voted winner of the Wattpad Award in 2014, so it’s had some publicity and popularity in the past.
The book is set in a future version of a parallel reality in which religious fanatics of the San Teria cult (I don’t practice Santeria, I ain’t got no crystal ball…) have taken over a Blade Runner-esque society and implemented a strict social order in which elites live in grand aerial cities while the poor scavenge for existence in disease-ridden slums. The hero, Arturo Basilides, is a teenager from the slums who gets caught up in a revolution against the San Teria government after he meets Dynah, a ‘transhuman’ girl whose body has been turned into a kind of supernatural weapon by government experimentation.
Robots! Superheroes! Ghosts! Cavemen! Sasquatches! Mutant monsters! Dystopian religious fanatics! Drugs ‘n’ sex ‘n’ rock ‘n’ roll! This book shoves together the most diverse and random of tropes and tries to make them work together in a world that has echoes of various other fictional worlds but stands alone in its originality. There are old tropes in the book, certainly. Dynah, the lab-created superhuman, is much like the cast of James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series or any number of characters from the literary tradition of comic books (she has a lot in common with Dark Phoenix of the X-Men comics, I noticed). Some descriptions of the divisions between the upper and lower stratums of the book’s society were very close to similar divisions in Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games series, and the mutant monsters which populate the book’s landscape could have been lifted from any number of sci-fi sources. This is not to say that these tropes are bad. They were used pretty effectively here. But, they are familiar tropes and they were used in familiar ways.
The story tries to do a lot and fit a lot together. Its storyline includes attempted revolution, failed romance, prison break, car racing, plague epidemics, and other elements. It’s undeniably fun, but the lack of cohesion does get to be an annoyance after a while, especially considering how long the book is (I read the ebook, but the print length is 439 pages). The book has a central plot, but along the way that plot is constantly delayed by the numerous side-plots. Some of the delays are great, but some of them completely stop the plot for long stretches (in one part Arturo and his sort-of girlfriend Myla go on a mission to Sky City and spend all of their time, and several dozen pages, exploring local entertainment and shopping).
Despite its lack of cohesion, the characters are engaging, the plot is interesting, the dialogue is witty, the action is entertaining, and the fictional world is quite spectacular. Fans of dystopian fiction, action fiction, and soft sci-fi/fantasy will enjoy it. Of the five books I’ve so far reviewed on this blog, The Rise of an Orphan is so far the best one.
Now, the plug. If you liked this book review, you can see my others here: