I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Swan Riders by Erin Bow
on September 20, 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Fantasy, romance
Format: Electronic, E-book ARC
Source: the publisher
Buy on Amazon
Greta Stuart had always known her future: die young. She was her country's crown princess, and also its hostage, destined to be the first casualty in an inevitable war. But when the war came it broke all the rules, and Greta forged a different path.
She is no longer princess. No longer hostage. No longer human. Greta Stuart has become an AI.
If she can survive the transition, Greta will earn a place alongside Talis, the AI who rules the world. Talis is a big believer in peace through superior firepower. But some problems are too personal to obliterate from orbit, and for those there are the Swan Riders: a small band of humans who serve the AIs as part army, part cult.
Now two of the Swan Riders are escorting Talis and Greta across post-apocalyptic Saskatchewan. But Greta’s fate has stirred her nation into open rebellion, and the dry grassland may hide insurgents who want to rescue her – or see her killed. Including Elian, the boy she saved—the boy who wants to change the world, with a knife if necessary. Even the infinitely loyal Swan Riders may not be everything they seem.
Greta’s fate—and the fate of her world—are balanced on the edge of a knife in this smart, sly, electrifying adventure.
Inside the Author’s Head
Welcome to the blog!
Can you first tell readers where the idea for this series came from for it? What kind of research did you have to do to prepare yourself to write it?
I never know quite where ideas come from. I feel bad about that. I think people want to hear that I have a secret PO Box that I send away to, and I will give them the address and the decoder ring. But ideas come from everywhere and nowhere, very slowly, and then very suddenly.
I could tell a couple of the stories about where THE SCORPION RULES came from. Here is one: I did a lot of research for an Aztec book, called The Teleportation of Gilbert Perez. (It’s based on a real-ish historical incident: read about it here and then write the book for me, okay?) I got about 30,000 words into Gilbert’s book when my carry-on bag with my notebook, my computer, and my external backup was stolen. I lost those words, and that novel. I never found my way back.
But I wanted to keep one thing I’d come across in my research: the figure of the royal sacrifice, of the child raised to be royal/divine, but doomed to be a human sacrifice. Now, these kids didn’t write their own stories down, but as far as one can tell from the records of the people who killed them, they were willing sacrifices.
That’s amazing. I wanted a whole book about that. So I wrote one.
I dove into it without much research, stopping and starting, making it up as I went along. I did have to do a lot of research – on everything from how albinism affects eyesight to how to milk goats to how to launch spaceships off a magnetic rail to how to treat a sucking chest wound. At once point I took horseback riding lessons, and I feel I definitely nailed the bit where my protagonist gets on a horse for the first time and is awkward and terrified, and later very sore. But I didn’t prepare to write through research – a very different process than the book before these, or the book I’m writing now.
Your Goodreads bio states you’re a physicist turned poet turned YA author. I need more details on this! What made you completely change career and how does your physicist background play into your writing?
Oh, gosh! Okay. So I’ve always liked physics and books, both, but at university, I had to pick one to study and I picked physics because books are easier to study on your own. I went through undergrad, did a year and a bit at CERN (the supercollider near Geneva, Switzerland), went to grad school, got super miserable, got very sick, and dropped out.
After dropping out I did stupid temp jobs for a while before a) getting serious about my poetry, and b) realizing that if you can both write a sentence and explain what a quark is, you can have a decent career as a science writer.
Physics itself rarely informs my writing – my characters hardly ever have to know how the strong nuclear force works. My training as a physicist, though, has been vital. I learned the hard day-to-day discipline of studying something difficult. I learned what it’s like to be perpetually over your head and creating your own way out. As a female physicist at CERN in the days before my experimental halls had women’s bathrooms, I learned how to step outside and watch, and how to fight my way in. It’s a hell of a toolkit for a novelist.
How different was it to write this book compared to The Scorpion Rules? What was the most interesting/difficult/stressful/exciting part of following up a novel and expanding a world you created? And what message do you want readers to take away from this book?
THE SWAN RIDERS is the first sequel I’ve ever written. On the one hand, it was a lot of fun to write, as I already knew some of the characters deeply, and had a good feel for the world. Normally I have to follow characters around for fifty to a hundred pages waiting until I know them well enough that they’ll do something interesting. This book was easier to start and it took off like Greta’s horse.
On the other hand, as you might gather from the “follow around” method above, I’m a writer who mostly creates structure and plot intricacy in rewrites. I’m not used to having a whole finalized first book that I can’t mess around with anymore.
I’m not huge on messages. If I just had a message I could save myself at least 80,000 words. But there are good chewy themes in this book. There’s stuff about loyalty, and sacrifice, and love. There’s stuff about power – who has it, who doesn’t, and how to use it ethically. As in THE SCORPION RULES, there’s stuff about what means to be human, using artificial intelligence as a lens, THE SWAN RIDERS, though, points that lens in a different direction. The two books are almost a mirror pair.
Okay, so I always like to see what authors read. What are your top five favorite books and why?
I write YA because I love YA. I write fantasy and science fiction because I love fantasy and science fiction. As a young reader, I imprinted on The Lord of the Rings, The Last Unicorn, and The Wizard of Earthsea. My perfect book is probably at the intersection of those, somewhere.
But I cannot possibly list five favorite books. How do I compare poetry to non-fiction to fiction? How do I compare the books I loved in the past to the books I love now? I just can’t. I will tell you the best few YAs I’ve read this year:
A THOUSAND NIGHTS
THE LIE TREE
THE ARCHIVIST WASP
THIS SAVAGE SONG
AND I DARKEN
Night owl or early bird? How does it help with your writing process?
I hate mornings. My children got me a sleep shirt that says “need COFFEE” and they joke that it’s not safe to approach me while I am still wearing it.
At least I think they’re joking.
Left to my own devices I would be a night owl. My first book of poetry was largely written between 10:00 PM and 2:00 AM. These days, as a parent who writes, I keep a mostly 9 – 5 writing schedule. Evenings are for cooking and family and twitter. I have somehow become a very dull adult.
On the other hand, you have to fit it in where you can, you know? I wrote the last few chapters of my first novel, Plain Kate, mostly in the car. I had an infant daughter with colic, and she would only stop screaming if we drove around. My husband drove and I wrote in the passenger seat. It took me ages to write that book – years.
If you could live in one ‘book world’ which one would it be and why?
I’m trying to pick one with everyday magic and incredible food. Maybe I could live in Isabelle Allende’s world?
And finally, what other projects, if any, are you working on?
I am super busy writing one book and researching another, but my agent will kill me if I tell you about them before she’s had a chance to sell them. One of them is a middle-grade realistic novel with great animal-human relationships (my favorite!) and one of them is YA contemporary funny thing but with ghosts. I’m also writing a book of poetry about science and scientists. Here is one of the poems!
The publisher is giving away three finished copies of The Swan Riders to some lucky readers! (US Only)