I’ve been doing a lot of searching, recently, for good speculative fiction books with queer characters, especially trans, f/f, or nonbinary/female leads. What better way to share my findings with the world than with reviews? I’ll try to do one every two weeks or so, so if you’re also crushing hard for queer speculative fiction, this is your place!
Trans Liberty Riot Brigade – L.M. Pierce
Rating: Three stars
Trans Liberty Riot Brigade tells the story of Andi, an intersex nonbinary teenager, struggling to exist and be safe within a dystopian society hell bent on making sure all of its residents are either ‘male’ or ‘female’.
The year is…uncertain. Somewhere not too far off our own timeline. The place is the USA, except now under a much more sinister name. Society is deeply stratified and in some type of event reminiscent of the Outpost occurrences in ‘Santa Olivia’, the US border has been closed and a huge wall erected. Nobody goes in, nobody comes out.
We don’t get a lot of motivation for the US doing this, other than basic power hunger and control, and something about a bomb which I wasn’t clear on. The set up is very ‘Hunger Games’ in the way the population is kept deeply in check. Of utmost importance in this country is population control, and there’s a big problem, in that the female babies keep coming out with ambiguous genitalia.
Most are reassigned and have surgery at birth, but those born outside a license, or to the very poor, live in the slums and form a band of revolutionaries – the Trans Liberty Riot Brigade.
World Building –
This was probably my favorite part. The description of the slums, and the world in general, was very clear. The language was never excessive (in terms of being beaten with adjectives), and the reader was given just enough information for flavor, without being bored to death with pages of description. I really did feel like I was in the slums, at the farm, in the wall. To the author, well done!
The set up was good, and the world sufficiently outlined to make it believable. The plot…wandered in places. I didn’t feel like I was given quite enough information to know why people were doing the things they were doing (outside of the ‘don’t want to get your dick cut off’ motivation, which is, in itself, highly compelling). I just never felt like I had a clear line of direction for Andi, nor for the Brigade. Yes, getting people to stop cutting bits off of babies is an excellent goal, but very large. I do know that some people prefer plots without clear direction (more of a ‘character wander and explore’ type). If this is you, then you will enjoy this book!
Generally the characters were well done. Andi is well rounded, however distinctly lacks agency. Andi only ever seems to do things in response to other people’s prodding or begging, even at the very end. I didn’t see a large character arc for Andi. I kept thinking at the end, when Andi has to keep the baddies from detonating a bomb, that the character would take the lead, but this didn’t happen. It might be set up for future books (from the ending it does seem that there is a lot more to do), but I’m not certain. Andi acts more like a bobber on the waves than the hook, if you’re into fishing metaphors. Other characters did not suffer from a similar deficiency, and I enjoyed the secondary characters a great deal.
The one thing that did trip me up was the dialect writing. Those who have read ‘Karen Memory’ will be familiar with this style of writing, although TLRB takes it a step further. There were some sections and some characters that I simply could not parse what was being said. Other times I became frustrated because the text was too tiring to read. If dialect-style writing works for you, this book is an excellent choice! If not, just be warned. It’s worth getting through, but it was a struggle.
Interesting questions were brought up in the book that are well worthy of a book club discussion. Descriptions of intersex genitalia, and variations in gender identity and expression were tastefully done, and show a strong understanding of the community. I was, however, caught on two instances of the use of ‘she’ to describe Andi, who several times in the book is adamant about not being a man or a woman. As there was no incidence where Andi chooses a pronoun or has a discussion about them, these two instances, while in Andi’s POV (book is in first person), rang a bit false. Those are pretty minor quibbles, however, and no reason to not read the book.
Overall, I was entertained and fascinated by the world presented. Fans of dystopian fantasy, and fans of queer fantasy, will enjoy this book.
You can buy Trans Liberty Riot Brigade at the following places: