Audiobook Review: The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

The Summer PrinceThe Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

The lush city of Palmares Tres shimmers with tech and tradition, with screaming gossip casters and practiced politicians. In the midst of this vibrant metropolis, June Costa creates art that’s sure to make her legendary. But her dreams of fame become something more when she meets Enki, the bold new Summer King. The whole city falls in love with him including June’s best friend, Gil. But June sees more to Enki than amber eyes and a lethal samba. She sees a fellow artist.

Together, June and Enki will stage explosive, dramatic projects that Palmares Tres will never forget. They will add fuel to a growing rebellion against the governments strict limits on new tech. And June will fall deeply, unfortunately in love with Enki. Because like all Summer Kings before him, Enki is destined to die.

Warnings: use of racist slurs

The Summer Princes is, at its core, about generational divide, or at least that is what I got through its slow building plot that talks about political machinations, the warping of tradition and the true meaning of rebellion. The book starts off with the main character, June, excited about the election of the new Summer King Enki (don’t worry, it does explain why the book is called Summer Prince and not Summer King), and her being selected for a prestigious art competition for a special Queen’s award that would set her career on a glorious path. June’s art and Enki’s rebellion make them allies, and they have in between them a common factor in the form of Gil, who is June’s best friend and Enki’s consort/boyfriend. June is in love with Enki, but is also in awe of how easily he charms people, how his passion shines through him, and how brightly he burns. As the story goes on, she starts to face her privilege, and how much she has to learn when it comes to rebelling.

The world of this book puts us way into the future, in a post-apocalyptic setting where the wars waged by men have paved a way for the matriarchal society of Palmares Tres. They don’t trust men with power, and so the Summer Kings are killed every five years (after serving only one year as King) in a ceremonial sacrifice that also elects their Queen for the next term. Despite being built on technological marvels that sustain the pyramid of a city, the current Palmares Tres shuns new technology, after seeing what it did to Tokyo Ten, in which nearly all of the populace immortalized themselves into data streams. The city thrives in its celebration of art and music, and you can feel it in the way it is described and written from June’s POV, but it also has a class system, with tiers denoting rank and affluence, and when Enki, from the lowest tier, makes it as the Summer King, he instantly becomes the beloved of everyone. He seeks to connect to the city and change it for the better, which is why he takes on various illegal biomods which will eventually kill him anyway.

There is a lot going on, emotionally, in the book, but it takes quite a while to get there. That, coupled with the fact that the book barely makes an effort to explain to us the tech, the society or the construct of the world more clearly means that much of the first half of the book is confusion for a reader, especially for one who is reading on audio. I didn’t get half of the terms – I consulted some reviews, and other online resources to find the words – like waka or grande, and it takes some time to understand where the story intended to go. The central issue is the grandes controlling the city with an iron fist, and the political schemes they wage among themselves for power, without any concern for the citizens they serve. With life expectancy raised to about two centuries of lifespans, theirs is a society that has a large generational divide, making for a demarcation of wakas, who are under 30 years, and considered immature, irresponsible and spoiled by the grandes. Much of the main beats of the plot come in the second half, which makes for an uneven plot, that is extremely slow in the start, and then dumping everything in the second half.

Because of the slower pace in the first half, the events in it seem mostly superfluous, and with the way June is constructed, it doesn’t much endear her to the reader. She is, in a word, spoiled – not just confident in her ability, but arrogant to assume that she deserves to be called the best. Her attitude towards her art is also more performative – chasing accolades and reknown, instead of being passionate about what she wants to convey – which sorta works because her art creates spectacles. This also means that she has a lot to learn in the second half, about how her place in society gives her advantages, how much she is willing to pay for her rebellion, and how much can she love a person. She gains a better understanding of the people around her, and through Enki, about her city. It isn’t a romance, really, as Enki loves Gil more, but there’s a firm bond between her and him, too, that is borne of a shared goal and passion. Enki, for his part, has snippets of POV that explain his actions and decisions, but I felt there could have been more from him.

The narrator does a passable job of it, but I don’t know if the exaggerated flair and emphasis of June’s speech was supposed to reflect her characterization or just a general feel to the storytelling. Enki’s narrator didn’t use the same accent or the flair that June’s idea of him indicates, so it felt incongruous. June’s narration also made for a slower diction, and I kept increasing the speed of the book because I kept falling asleep while reading it lol. Still, I kinda liked the effect, and loved the song at the end. Overall, it is a richly imagined world with a terrific central plot, but it does have its problems with making us understand it clearly.

Is it diverse? Set in a futuristic Brazilian arcology with Latinx cast, matriarchal society, also basically everyone’s queer

View all my reviews

Buy links

The Book Depository | Wordery

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