Greta Stuart has become AI. New transmitters have silvered her fingerprints. New receptors have transformed her vision. And the whole of her memory has become one book in a vast library of instant knowledge. Greta is ready to rule the world.
But the new technology is also killing her.
Greta is only sixteen years old, but her new enhancements are burning through her mortal body at an alarming rate. Of course the leader of the AIs, an ancient and compelling artificial intelligence named Talis, has a plan. Greta can simply do what he’s done when the time comes, and take over the body of one of the Swan Riders, the utterly loyal humans who serve the AIs as part army, part cult.
First though, Greta will have to find a way to stay sane inside her new self. Talis’s plan for that involves a road trip. Escorted by Swan Riders, Greta and Talis set out on a horseback journey across the strange and not-quite-deserted landscape of Saskatchewan. But there are other people interested in Greta, people who want to change the world…and the Swan Riders might not be as loyal as they appear…
After the end of the last book, The Scorpion Rules, I was excited as to what direction the author would take in the sequel. There was, of course, the novelty of Greta being a new AI and learning how to live as one, but The Swan Riders takes it further than that. In the start, yes, it is about Greta adjusting to this new brain – the memories that she does not remember, but rather relives. It is a tightrope, maintaining the balance between remembering and recall, and triggers can make her fall into a dangerous loop. Talis helps her out but soon she realizes that she doesn’t want the kind of help he is giving, if it means losing a part of herself. And it starts to tie into the main plot – that is of the distance the AIs have kept from their human selves, so that they could become impartial, unbiased rulers of the world.
As the title suggests, the story takes us into the subject of the Swan Riders themselves, a group of people who are sworn to the AI – like knights to kings – but with the added burden of possession. They are vessels for the Talis to temporarily take over when he needs the human touch to his work, but Greta soon realizes that this process is not without a cost to the Swan Riders themselves – their brains get damaged slowly over time. Combined with the rebellion rising over the world in her name, it is a pretty bad time to be an AI who cares too much, but the lesson here is not for Greta alone.
What I loved most about the book that through Greta’s mostly impassive perspective, we gain a better understanding of this aspect of the world – the ones who were thought to be cold enforcers were actually a band of people who want to save the world. And from Talis’ intermittent chapters, we see how the whole business started in the first place. Though Greta is the protagonist of the book, I felt this was more of a character development for Talis himself – him coming to term with what power means, and how to wield it. There are some great humorous moments in the first half – Talis’ snark, Elian’s sass and Sri’s dry wit will have you smiling non-stop, but the second half brings some pain along with it. I cried towards the ending, and it was pretty brutal; stretched to the point of being heart-breaking because it was reminiscent of the love story in the first book.
With that glimmer of hope in the end, and the world still in turmoil, I am very interested to see what the next book holds. (Please tell me there is one!)
Previous books in series