Hullmetal Girls is one of my most antici[ated 2018 releases, and I was so lucky to be able to snag the arc as a gift earlier this year. I had such high hopes for this, and it went above and beyond!
Aisha Un-Haad would do anything for her family. When her brother contracts a plague, she knows her janitor’s salary isn’t enough to fund his treatment. So she volunteers to become a Scela, a mechanically enhanced soldier sworn to protect and serve the governing body of the Fleet, the collective of starships they call home. If Aisha can survive the harrowing modifications and earn an elite place in the Scela ranks, she may be able to save her brother.
Key Tanaka awakens in a Scela body with only hazy memories of her life before. She knows she’s from the privileged end of the Fleet, but she has no recollection of why she chose to give up a life of luxury to become a hulking cyborg soldier. If she can make it through the training, she might have a shot at recovering her missing past.
In a unit of new recruits vying for top placement, Aisha’s and Key’s paths collide, and the two must learn to work together–a tall order for girls from opposite ends of the Fleet. But a rebellion is stirring, pitting those who yearn for independence from the Fleet against a government struggling to maintain unity.
Hullmetal Girls was rich, thought provoking, and full of two fantastic protagonists. I loved that some describe this book as full of ‘angry cyborg girls’ because that to me sounds like my anthem. I want angry cyborg girls and Skrustskie delivers.
So let’s begin with the characters. First off, Key felt like this breath of cathartic fresh air and she remains this enigmatic puzzle until the end of the book. Even then, she isn’t ‘solved’ there are just more answers revealed. I loved that Key doesn’t get away easily, her experience is incredibly different and she may be my favorite character. I was really expecting Aisha to be my favorite. And she is the obvious choice for me (not to mention she’s aro ace!!!!!! I screamed when I saw this). She’s motivated fiercely by family and in some ways she reminds me a little of Katniss. Both of our protagonists are rich, detailed, and they felt so genuine.
Not to mention, Aisha and Key have some pretty interesting ideas and conflicts about class. They couldn’t be more different from the beginning, and their friendship is one of the most fascinating things to watch develop. I also loved their other co-soldiers and hope there’s a book about them in the works! The world building here is phenomenal.
But what proved to me that Hullmetal Girls was the book for me was the cyborg aspect. They have these Scela which are like these alien embodiment. It has a will and it sort of mends to the body. It’s supposed to be this symbiotic process, because if it’s not, then the human can die. But this had all sorts of delicious (I know that’s a weird word to use) consequences and challenges for the book. Are they still human? And what parts of their agency do they retain?
Not to mention they’re in this military system, so their agency is already hindered (by chain of command and orders), but their identities as Scela’s make this an even more complicated relationship. AND to top it off, there are really great and nuanced conversations about what makes a good person and leader.
I can’t get over the book. There’s too much that I love.
Go get yourself a copy of Hullmetal Girls at Goodreads.