The Rise of Io by Wesley Chu

The Rise of IoThe Rise of Io

by Wesley ChuA
Series: Io, #1

eARC, 352 pg.
Angry Robot, 2016

Read: September 27 – 29, 2016

“Stick with me, kid ,” he said. “We’ll introduce you to a bigger world with all sorts of new people who will want to kill you.”

Let me start by saying that while this is a sequel to the Tao Trilogy (taking place a couple of decades after The Rebirths), you don’t have to have read them to enjoy this. You’ll miss some nuances, not understand some references and will spoil events in books that you’ll end up wanting to have read. But, it’s not essential — and this would be a great jumping-on point. If you’ve read the Tao Trilogy, let me assure you that this is a worthy successor, just as fun — a part of the same series, but it feels fresh enough that you don’t feel like you’ve read this book before.

Ella Patel lives in an Indian slum — in part of the world hardest hit by the war between the Quasing factions and their human allies (while I feel bad for these fictional Indians, I’m so glad to see alien combat not centered in the U.S.). She lives on her own, orphaned by circumstance and a Gengix attack — between her small size, quick wit and almost all-consuming greed she lives life on her own terms, two steps ahead of the law and one step ahead of criminals she’s wronged. I could’ve read at least 100 pages more of her antics before we introduced a single Quasing from either side and been entirely content (not a complaint about when we got Quasings, however), Ella’s just instantly likeable in a way that no one in these series has been (with the possible exception of Cameron).

Io’s host is in India doing some off-the-books investigating into one of the Gengix’s most ambitious projects yet. That investigation doesn’t go so well and suddenly Io needs a new host — there’s the impetuous woman who tried to help her host nearby (and a much better option than anyone else), so Io makes a choice and the Queen of the streets becomes so much more. Their relationship defines rocky initially (see Tao and Roen, but worse).

It should be obvious (but isn’t) that not every Quasing will have had as illustrious existence as Tao — Io’s haven’t developed a martial art, conquered legendary kingdoms, etc. Which isn’t to say that Io didn’t leave her mark on history — for example, I trust the name “The Maginot Line” rings a bell.

As the minutes ticked by, Io clarified some of the dreams of her glorious career inhabiting humans. If anything, it comforted Ella that the Quasing weren’t all-knowing and powerful, that they were just as culpable and mistake-prone as any human.

Nevertheless, just by having existed for a few millennia on earth, Io’s got a lot of wisdom and experience to pass on to her new host. Slowly — and with several appeals to her mercenary streak — Io convinces Ella to begin training to become a Prophus agent. Eventually, Ella begins to make a sort of peace with her new life partner and something approaching friendship begins to develop.

Incidentally, Ella’s not the only one comforted by a not-all-that-perfect Quasing.

Meanwhile, a couple of Gengix Adonis agents are vying for control over India — with the citizenry of the slum (and the nation, really) acting as pawns. Shula is one of the more lethal women you’ll come across — both politically and physically. She’s not one you want to cross in almost any situation — but that doesn’t stop many.

At some point, Prophus agents come to town and everything gets turned upside down — Ella finds a desire to help the Prophus, Shula seized the opportunity for personal power, and Io has her chance at doing something that’ll leave her mark on history.

The fight scenes (training and otherwise) are up to Chu’s pretty high standards, the humor is crisp, the characters (including a couple of old friends) are just right, and the plots are among his best — I just don’t know how else to put this. The book was a solid winner and had me eager for the next installment, and then Chu hits us with one of the best Epilogues that I can remember, making me more than eager for whatever’s next (not really sure what the word for “more than eager” is, eager squared?).

Great characters, twists, suspense and grins — I dug this one so much. He keeps the magic of the Tao books, reinvigorates it and expands it. I expected Chu to deliver just what fans wanted without it being a case of “second verse, same as the first,” I just didn’t expect it’d be this good. Get on this one, folks.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Angry Robot via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

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4 Stars

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The Rebirths of Tao by Wesley Chu

The Rebirths of TaoThe Rebirths of Tao

by Wesley Chu
Series: Tao Trilogy, #3

Mass Market Paperback, 506 pg.
Angry Robot Books, 2015
Read: June 15 – 20, 2015That was satisfying.

Really, that’s about all I have to say about this one. But let’s see if I can’t expand a bit. Overall, I enjoyed The Lives more than this, and this one engaged me more throughout than The Deaths did, but The Rebirths brought the Tao Trilogy to a satisfying conclusion, wrapping up what needed to be wrapped up, dealing with all the arcs that needed to be concluded and generally leaving things in a place where we can say goodbye to these characters (not that we necessarily want to, but we can) — oh, and was a solid SF adventure in its own right.

One personal note, a large part of the action takes place in Ontario, Oregon. Most people reading this book aren’t going to think much about that at all, but I grew up about 10 minutes away from Ontario — so I thought that was pretty cool. On the other hand, now I know how Bostonians feel when reading Robert B. Parker or Dennis Lehane, or a life-long Chicago resident when reading Jim Butcher. The geography is bad, and if you wanted to buy a nicer car, you wouldn’t bother driving to Boise, you’d get the same car (probably cheaper) in Ontario.

But that matters so little to the book as a whole, that those four sentences are at least two too many.

So, anyway, this book (like The Deaths) takes place a few years after we’d left Roen and the rest. His son, Cameron, is a teenager — with all the stubbornness, rebellion, and hormone-addled fun that entails. Of course, his rebellion takes the form of wanting to join in the war against the Genjix, while his parents do all they can to steer him away.

It’s safe to say that very few (if any) of the Quasing are happy with Jill’s little revelation at the end of The Deaths — Genjix or Prophus — which puts them in the same boat as humanity. Governments all over the world are attempting to hunt down any and all Quasing. Which hasn’t done any favors for the Prophus, but at least seems to have hurt the Genjix effort more.

Which is not to say they’re down for the count by any means. Enzo, the Adonis, is still out there strutting like a peacock and working to bring about the end of humanity. We finally get to see the Genjix plan in full, and I’ve got to say, reading about their plan for re-making Earth makes me really glad that this is fiction.

Right?

So, we’ve got the Ontario storyline — which looks like a pretty routine mission for Roen and Marcos (yeah, not quite Felix & Oscar, but close enough), until it gets bad. And then worse. There’s a conflict in the leadership of the Genjix (so nice to see that even some of them don’t like Enzo). And then there’s a major breach in security which leaves the rest of our Prophus friends on the run — our focus is on Cameron, but not exclusively here. I was a little surprised how Chu concluded the Ontario storyline — which is what made it effective, really. These three threads, ultimately, naturally, converged into one big battle — like the two books before.

Once again, what Chu did with Roen between the books isn’t exactly what one expects, but it fits his character. Ditto for Jill. We didn’t know Cameron enough for me to say. Tao? Sure — Tao’s the same, being centuries old helps him stay consistent. When it comes to the machinery of the Genjix, Prophus and the US Government (and/or everyone else) — things didn’t go the way I figured they would following The Deaths — but I think I liked it more that way. It’s because of the fallout from Jill’s revelation that most of the character changes happened the way they did. Chu really was effective here.

There are some great fight scenes, if that’s your kind of thing (and if it’s not, why are you reading these books?). The final scene is as epic — yet personal — as you want from the end of a third book in a trilogy. Part of that battle are back-to-back hand-to-hand combat scenes featuring an Adonis vessel and people near and dear to us. By this point, I had no idea what Chu was going to give us and I was hanging on every hit. I’m so glad that Chu sprinkles so much humor through these books — after these fights were over, I needed the joke that followed.

It may not work for everyone, but I really liked where everything was left off. Particularly for Enzo.

A really solid novel, a satisfying conclusion — making the Tao trilogy a keeper. I’m very much looking forward to what Chu’s got in store next.

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4 1/2 Stars

The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu

The Lives of Tao (Tao, #1)The Lives of Tao

by Wesley Chu
Series: Tao Trilogy, #1


Paperback, 460 pg.
Angry Robot, 2014
Read: May 29 – June 4, 2014

Last spring, it seemed that every writer I follow on Twitter was gushing about this book, but it really didn’t seem like my kind of thing. But last week, I saw it on the new book library shelf and decided to give it a shot. So glad I did. In case you haven’t seen it, the back cover blurb is:

When out-of-shape IT technician Roen woke up and started hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumed he was losing it. He wasn’t. He now has a passenger in his brain – an ancient alien life-form called Tao, whose race crash-landed on Earth before the first fish crawled out of the oceans. Now split into two opposing factions – the peace-loving, but under-represented Prophus, and the savage, powerful Genjix – the aliens have been in a state of civil war for centuries. Both sides are searching for a way off-planet, and the Genjix will sacrifice the entire human race, if that’s what it takes. Meanwhile, Roen is having to train to be the ultimate secret agent. Like that’s going to end up well…

Roen’s obviously not your typical hero, or even your atypical hero. But he’s a good guy that you eventually like (as difficult as that can be to imagine when we first encounter him). Which is good, because he’s our entry point in to this world, and an entry point that you can’t stand doesn’t make for fun reading. As he gets to understand his place in this new reality he’s been exposed to, as he begins to understand how these aliens have changed world history — we get to, too.

This doesn’t seem like Chu’s first book, he writes with panache, skill and confidence. His action scenes feel authentic, his world is intricate and believable, and he tells his story in a compelling manner that keeps you turning pages.

There’s some real heart here amongst the SF action. Often in SF, particularly the more high-concept SF, characters can be 1- or 2-dimensional. Not here, the most minor of characters seem real, seem like someone you could bump into at the water cooler, public transportation or a government office. You get to like them as people, not just as representatives of Prophus or Genjix — and that’s key. People with convictions, aspirations and relate-able motivations. As long as Chu keeps that up, this series will be one to stick with.

While I liked the banter, the back-and-forth between Roen and Tao, Roen and the others — but I didn’t find the book as hilarious as so many others have. I just see it as a good suspense novel (with a wicked twist) featuring some snarky characters. And that’s good enough to enjoy this and to bring me back for more.

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4 Stars