Book Review: The Hands We're Given

Happy (late) Thursday, everyone! It's the end of October, which means it's time for me to post another book review for your general consumption. I won't bore you with the whirlwind of insanity in my personal life in the last two months or the technology woes of the last month other than to say that it feels good to be back at this!

On to the review, eh?

Disclaimer Tag: The book for this month's review was provided to me for free by the author (yay - Indie Author!) in exchange for a fair and honest review of their work.

The Hands We're Given (Aces High, Jokers Wild Vol. 1)
O.E. Tearmann, 2018

Another disclaimer here:
Amongst other things, this story heavily features gay, lesbian, and transgender characters, and their romantic relationships. If that's not something you want to read, feel free to close out now and go about your daily business - no hard feelings.

In the 22nd century, America as we knew it is long gone. Global warming has drastically changed its geography. Political partisanship destroyed the government, and it's the corporations who stepped in to 'stabilize' the country. In the process, they took over everything and created a new society with strict class structures and steep consequences for stepping outside of bounds.

On the fringes is the Democratic State Force (DSF), which is fighting against the powers that be and the injustices they perpetrate. Base 1407 (AKA the Wildcards) is a unit of misfits within the DSF reeling from the loss of their beloved commander. Aidan Headly is the third (and final) replacement sent their way before they get disbanded. Somehow, Aidan has to earn their trust and turn them back into the elite force they were once reputed to be. 

Overall, I enjoyed this one. Stories about groups of misfit heroes fighting the good fight are usually an easy sell for me, but what caught my attention especially with The Hands We're Given is the honesty and sincerity in the characters of the story. I didn't just see that Aidan had insecurities he was dealing with - his transitioning body, finding his feet as the new commander of a highly unconventional military unit, etc. I felt it in all of its beautiful, squirming awkwardness with him throughout the story. And the disillusionment, anger, fear, concern, even, the unit felt as they wrestled with how to treat Aidan was genuine. Their tight-knit group was on the edge of being disbanded was something I felt in my gut along with them.

Some of the world-building elements in this story were fantastic as well. With the current political climate here in the U.S. of A, I can easily see partisanship ripping the government apart and sending the country into chaos. As large as some corporations have become, I can see them stepping in to 'bring back stability' and creating their own governing systems in the process. Other elements like technologies that physically keep undesirables out of certain areas or mend security fences, heavy drone usage, and extreme targeted marketing create a societal framework that could be considered nightmarish.

I also really enjoyed getting a glimpse of a different type of misfit than I normally see in these types of stories. I'm used to seeing groups on the outside of the outside because of beliefs (political or religious), disability, and even ethnicity, but not sexuality or gender identity. It's not a stretch to assume the LGBTQ+ community would also be pushed in to the outside, but I've not read a story like this from their perspective before.

For all of the strength of its worldbuilding, though, one of the weaker points of the story for me was the overall generic feeling of the scenes in places that were off the grid. When some of the Wildcards were on other bases or on missions elsewhere off-grid, I struggled to keep track of where they were at. I could have used a detail or two from each location in order to differentiate between them. 

I also struggled with the number of late 20th and early 21st century pop culture references and song lyrics. I understand some of it relates to Kevin (Aidan's love interest in the story) and showing how well he know and loves our time period, but after a certain point they popped me out of the story instead of keeping me in it. The use of song lyrics was especially heavy-handed, and I found myself skimming through sections of the story to get past them.

Reading books outside of your norm can be challenging, but worth it. I'm invested in the Wildcards now, and I plan to add the next volume of this series to my reading list.