Finally, a queer YA sci-fi novel! Most of my queer YA book reviews in this past year have been fantasy. That’s not because I read or enjoy fantasy more, it’s because most of the diverse YA books that include LGBTQ+ protagonists in the past several years have been fantasy, or at least the ones I’ve been able to find have been. Fantasy, especially dystopia, has been having a heyday the past decade in YA lit, and while that’s on the decline, it’s still a dominant force. Thus, I was thrilled to hear about Tristina Wright’s 27 Hours. Multiple multiracial, queer protagonists written in third person intimate perspective? Sign me the F up.
A Brief (Spoiler Free) Rundown
Rumor Mora fears two things: hellhounds too strong for him to kill, and failure. Jude Welton has two dreams: for humans to stop killing monsters, and for his strange abilities to vanish. But in no reality should a boy raised to love monsters fall for a boy raised to kill them.
Nyx Llorca keeps two secrets: the moon speaks to her, and she’s in love with her best friend, Dahlia. Braeden Tennant wants two things: to get out from his mother’s shadow, and to unlearn his colony’s darkest secret. To save everyone they love, they’ll both have to commit treason.
During one twenty-seven-hour night, these four runaways must stop the war between the colonies and the monsters from becoming a war of extinction, or the things they fear most will be all that’s left.
The Good Stuff
The gist of the story is that about 75 years ago, human beings colonized a moon, accidentally killed many of the indigenous peoples while terraforming, and have been at war with them ever since. The colonists call the indigenous species ‘gargoyles,’ a term the military chose to bias and other them. A splinter group of humans who refused to continue fighting the natives, called the forest rebels, use the term ‘chimera,’ a term the natives themselves chose. All four of the protagonists are born into the war, though they have different perspectives on what that means to them.
This is honestly one of the most diverse casts of protagonists you’re likely to meet, especially when it comes to attraction. Including both primary and secondary characters, we have almost the full spectrum of LGBTQ+ identity. Plus, one of the main protagonists is deaf, another has PTSD, another anxiety, and one will likely start the next book (if there is one coming) with a prosthetic limb. They’re all multiracial, too. I called this kind of inclusivity “the full SJW” treatment in a tongue-and-cheek way before—and as something I’d like to see elsewhere and create in my own work—but I’ve never seen it in print. It gives me hope that we could get even more books with such diverse protagonists.
Rumor is of multiracial—Indian, Nigerian, and Portuguese—descent, bisexual, and has PTSD and anxiety attacks. Jude is the closest to white (all we know is his dad’s family is from New Zealand and his mother was Dutch). He’s also gay and has a condition similar to synesthesia where he perceives other people’s emotions as colors. Nyx is Latinx, pansexual, plus-sized, deaf, and has anxiety. Braeden is asexual, and has two moms. And that’s just the main protagonists.
Dahlia, one of the secondary characters and Nyx’s love interest, is bisexual, Afro-Latinx and transgender. Jude’s brothers, the closest thing he has to parents, are both queer men of color. One of the Asian tertiary characters uses they/them pronouns. There’s also a significant discussion of pronoun usage when it comes to interacting with the chimera, who, unlike humans, have no primary or secondary sex/gender markers discernable to the protagonists. The amount of agency given to them to define themselves in this framework is impressive.
Put simply, Wright created a world where straight and white are no longer the default, yet without needing to include homophobia and racism. For once, the reality that queers come in packs makes it onto the page. Praise be!
Third person intimate is by far my favorite narrative style. While Wright could have differentiated more between each of the main characters’ voices, they were all engaging. Nyx was by far my favorite of the four—how can I resist a pansexual girl with anxiety and a tendency to overanalyze everything? While not deaf myself, I found that aspect of her experience to be sensitively written and beautiful. Wright never shies away from incorporating ASL into dialogue. Nor does Wright neglect to draw attention to how being deaf personally affects both Nyx’s internal sensory experiences and how people talk to/interact with her. It’s clear to me Wright consulted and listened to a sensitivity reader when writing Nyx. The effort to get it right really shows.
Rumor’s arc drives the narrative. His is the first perspective we get and he has the clearest character development throughout the series. For much of the novel, his arc mirrors that of a stereotypical sci-fi/fantasy action hero. He has a dead parent and the situation surrounding her death leaves him scarred physically and emotionally as well as earning him a reputation as a skilled fighter. He’s sarcastic, filled with anger, revenge-driven, and militaristic. The only thing is, he is neither straight nor white.
The subversion goes deeper than that, though. By the end of the novel, his perspective has been questioned at every level. Everything about this kind of chip-on-his-shoulder, jaded hero comes into question. He has PTSD and anxiety attacks, making him a more consistent exploration of what war and trauma does to someone. His lone-wolf attitude comes under fire more than once, as does his tendency to keep his emotions close to his chest. He’s told to relax and celebrate after a brief victory, and he does. His constant vigilance and thirst for revenge are met with nothing but challenge from the other protagonists and the narrative itself. His entire arc is unlearning the straight, white, male genre hero narrative, and I love it.
Wright also subverts the dead wlw trope (aka “Bury your gays”) that we here at the Fandomentals have called out as being a problem the past several years. In fact, all of her protagonists can rightly be called Unkillable Queers, as all of them face life-threatening injuries without dying. It’s a whole book of Unkillable Queers, and for that, I can do naught but applaud. Certain showrunners could take a lesson from her.
Wright manages to create tension and high drama despite the lack of protagonist death. Where we got the idea that characters have to die to be ‘realistic’ I don’t know, but I hate that mentality. Sure, poorly written stories have obvious plot armor around their protagonists, but that doesn’t mean death is the only way to generate narrative tension. Yes, people die in real life. But people are also mortally injured and survive in real life, too. The problem, to me, comes when you’re unwilling to explore the after-effects of life-threatening injuries or show how even less serious injuries hamper characters’ behavior. Wright’s incorporation of both serves her well. I was genuinely afraid for certain characters in given moments, yet she didn’t need to kill them to make that happen.
She has a great sense of pacing overall, I think. 27 Hours is action packed without feeling hectic. She balances action with down-time really well, and the romances felt neither forced nor jarring. The countdown to dayside generated momentum and maintained a sense of urgency. And, unlike certain episodes of 24, it actually felt like all of this could have happened in 27 hours. Like, there’s time for characters to have gone to the bathroom. It may not sound like a lot to ask, but not all narratives take these ‘down’ moments into account when there’s a ticking clock.
I liked the worldbuilding for the most part. The mix of futurism and modern tech fit and provided a sense of familiarity to an entirely alien and different environment. I really liked that Sahara, the moon they live on, has more to it than meets the eye. I would have liked a bit more backstory on the conflict between the chimera and humans. In fact, I would have liked more cultural worldbuilding from the chimera, hands down. I think the narrative could have used more of a sense of the intelligence, altruism, and cultural uniqueness of the chimera to balance out the heavily propagandized, negative perspective we hear at first.
Still, I do think we’ll get more on this count if she writes more books in this series. She makes attempts to address the propaganda machine explicitly, and given the secretive nature of certain plot elements, it makes sense that aspect would come more toward the end of the novel.
“Propaganda and hearsay are elegant weapons for killing questions.”
More could have been done for sure, especially given the colonialist implications (see below). At the same time, I think the theme she’s exploring is relevant given our current society, and I have hopes more will be done in the future if she gets a sequel.
It could be that some find certain plot points ‘unoriginal’ and admittedly, the writing voice is a bit…basic? I didn’t find it off-putting, especially with how high-octane the action was. But it does need to be said that it could do with a bit of polish. It’s less that she’s not talented as a writer and more that it felt at times like she was trying to write in what I call “YA voice,” which may not be a natural fit for her as a writer. Still, if I had to pick between a more basic voice and flat, predictable characters with no heart, I’d pick the former. When it comes to 27 Hours, the characters make the weaknesses in writing voice worthwhile.
Actually, the Abyss duology had the same feel to me. They’re both more straightforward and simple in writing voice, though the former is not quite as long. They both also share a tendency to head-nod to social media culture (especially Tumblr) and fic tropes. That’s not a bad thing, but it is something to be aware of.
By far the biggest flaw comes in the form of unfortunate colonialist implications. On the one hand, Wright does a pretty good job clarifying that not all native life is aggressive toward humanity and not all humans are inherently colonialist in their approach to engaging with the chimera. Yes, the villain we hear most about is a tyrannical, violent, aggressive native, but by the end of the book, we’re also shown that the perspective that he’s the main driving force behind the conflict is wrong. He’s the face of it, but only for now. I have a feeling she’s going to dive into the complexity of the joint human-chimera war machine (that Reaper is but one part of) in future novels.
Since I’ve engaged with other media that has handled colonialist narratives even more poorly, I’m more inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt. She’s no Rothenberg blithely painting all indigenous peoples as inherently violent savages. At the same time, it is uncomfortable that the most revenge-driven and violent character is one with both Indian and Nigerian ancestry. Though I think that’s a flaw in the intersectionality—a desire to be as diverse as possible while not seeing how that intersects with lived history—rather than an intentional malevolence. Still, something I wish a sensitivity reader would have caught.
However, that’s not the entirety of it. The problem is how limited the perspective of the story is overall. As a white woman, I find stories about a dominant, oppressive group unlearning their prejudice valuable because it’s what I’ve lived my life doing. At the same time, stories like these do center the dominant group, especially if there is no POV from the colonized. Yes, it’s nice to see my story—one of overcoming prejudice and unlearning toxic, oppressive thoughts and behaviors—but that shouldn’t be the whole story. As a book that grapples with colonialism via a human-alien conflict, lacking a perspective of the indigenous peoples is off-putting, especially to those readers who have suffered from colonialism.
If you want an excellent read on why there are issues here, I highly recommend reading this review by Aimal. I can’t do the conversation about colonialism justice, and as a white woman, it’s not my place to do so. Aimal offers a very thorough discussion of not only the colonialist implications, but other racial issues, including Rumor’s ethnic heritage. I found it extremely thought-provoking. I came away rethinking some of my initial reactions and giving more thought to how such dynamics would play out in my own writing, so please give it a read.
Final Score: 9/10
There are so many things to love about this book. The queer rep is phenomenal, as is that mental health rep. Wright has a good sense of pacing and balance of emotion, action, and heart. I also loved her subversion of the stereotypical sci-fi, action, straight, white, male hero narrative with Rumor. While there are some uncomfortable implications with his ethnic history, I find the overall goals of his arc worth exploring and drawing attention to. I also appreciated that all four of the protagonists are Unkillable Queers.
At the same time, there are flaws in the colonialist implications and certain racial dynamics that are likely entirely unintentional. It doesn’t make them any less of an issue, but I do think it worthwhile to acknowledge when there’s good intent that’s poorly executed/educated versus blatant disregard or malicious intent. Given how much good there is, I have high hopes that Tristina Wright could pull this around and address some of these issues in future novels. That’s the reason why I give this a high score and why I think it’s still worth reading. But I also know it’s not my place to ‘forgive’ such flaws, which is why I point to the perspective of someone who can speak to it and urge you to listen to what she has to say when making a decision about whether or not to read the book.
It’s a huge step forward in some areas and could use some work in others, but in my opinion, it’s not irredeemably flawed. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and look forward to reading more from Wright in the future, especially if she takes action toward correcting some of her mis-steps.