“After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will.
Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death…by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier.
Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla.
Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war.”
When Crier’s War opens, we’re several decades into a new world order. The Automae rose up against their human creators. After a bloody, deadly revolution, they conquered their masters and became masters in turn. Where the humans saw Automae as playthings, Automae see humans as at best pets and at worst beasts of burden. In their view, humans are things to be used then discarded when in the way or no longer useful. Some, like King Hesod, have adopted a few human customs as a way of showing off privilege and status, stealing pieces from the oppressed and claiming them as Automae traditions. Others, like the Anti-Resilience Movement want to eradicate all human life and culture and claim the land for themselves. The Automa Queen of Varn has unusual ideas of how humans should be treated, while Princess Crier, daughter of Hesod, has yet to form her own opinion.
Meanwhile, human servant Ayla dreams only of vengeance. Years before, Hesod’s soldiers raided her village and slaughtered her entire family. She was saved by Rowan, a secret revolutionary working with her fellow humans to foment a new revolution. Now as a palace servant, Ayla hopes to be able to one day get close enough to kill Crier and punish Hesod for his crimes. Her dream comes within reach when she unexpectedly is appointed as Crier’s handmaiden. Crier isn’t what Ayla expected of a leech – the derogatory term humans often call Automae – but Ayla also isn’t what Crier expected. As Crier’s fiance Scyre Kinok starts pushing humans and Automae around like chess pieces on a board only he can see, Ayla and Crier will be forced to work together to save their people. Something sparks between them, something forbidden but unavoidable.
There’s a whole lot going on in this series opener, all of it excellent. The way the hierarchy between Automae and humans plays out echoes American chattel slavery and colonialist oppression in some intriguing ways. Cultural appropriation and privilege/entitlement also get featured, particularly in scenes where Ayla calls Crier out for her hypocrisy and willful ignorance. I’ve seen the slavery/oppression analogy done better in other YA speculative fiction stories, but Varela handles it well.
Crier’s War isn’t really a F/F romance for reasons I can’t get into without spoiling the plot, but there is certainly F/F attraction and desire. And I’m pleased to report that the secondary and background characters are very diverse (at least in terms of gender, skin color, and sexual identity). There is bigotry in this world, but it’s all tied to human/Automae relations. No one questions or comments on any elements of identity other than whether or not they’re human. Even the Automae can be queer.
Overall, I really liked this novel. Fast-paced with dense worldbuilding and compelling characters, Crier’s War made for a great way to spend a weekend. This is going to be a heck of a series, if the first book is any indication. Perfect for fans of We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia.
Thanks to HarperTeen for sending me a review copy.