Dove Arising is a new YA science fiction novel from Karen Bao, and one which I persevered through despite a host of issues, until I reached the last fifth or so when things really began to go off the rails. I pushed on, admittedly skimming a bit, thinking “I’m this far in, I can finish,” but the cumulative effect was just too much and I ended up giving up about forty pages from the end.
The setting is one of a series of bases on the moon, in a future where Earth is under the domination of two floating city-states and their respective alliances, and in a cold-war (that occasionally heats up) relationship with the moon bases. Phaet is a 15-year-old girl whose life is turned upside down when her mother is taken away for quarantine and then later arrested for “disruptive print,” as the bases system is a bit dictatorial (ruled by a committee, constant surveillance, prohibitions on speech). To pay for the medical and legal bills, Phaet enlists in the militia, where she needs to rise high in the ranks to keep her mom out of prison and her siblings out of the hell that is “Shelter” — the place where the poor are dumped.
As mentioned, there were a host of issues. The world building in Dove Arising is shallow and never feels fully thought-out or like an actual working system; instead it feels like a hodgepodge of dystopias and YA sci-fi, crossing over at times into being entirely derivative; it’ll be easy to spot bits of Ender’s Game, Divergent, and Hunger Games here. There’s the requisite young love and potential triangle, which if done well could just be a trope of the genre but here feels wholly flat and perfunctory. None of the characters have any life to them; side characters are completely flat while Phaet just basically moves along through the plot with little sense of personality or individuality. And her smooth arc through the military training was just wholly implausible, and to be honest, its conclusion was simply nonsensical. As for the last bit of the book, it just wholly spins out of control, with plot moves that make no sense or, again, are completely implausible. Character actions appear out of nowhere, and people and systems behave nothing like people and systems would. It’s a rushed, chaotic, unbelievable swirl of events involving characters I just don’t care about who long ago left the real world.
Karen Bao is a young author whose bio says she started Dove Arising at age seventeen so it shouldn’t surprise that it reads as just that: the work of a young adult. The surprise is in its publication — the industry should have served her better by giving her the time to let her writing and creativity mature.