Exo by Fonda Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It’s been a century of peace since Earth became a colony of an alien race with far reaches into the galaxy. Some die-hard extremists still oppose alien rule on Earth, but Donovan Reyes isn’t one of them. His dad holds the prestigious position of Prime Liaison in the collaborationist government, and Donovan’s high social standing along with his exocel (a remarkable alien technology fused to his body) guarantee him a bright future in the security forces. That is, until a routine patrol goes awry and Donovan’s abducted by the human revolutionary group Sapience, determined to end alien control.
When Sapience realizes whose son Donovan is, they think they’ve found the ultimate bargaining chip . But the Prime Liaison doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, not even for his own son. Left in the hands of terrorists who have more uses for him dead than alive, the fate of Earth rests on Donovan’s survival. Because if Sapience kills him, it could spark another intergalactic war. And Earth didn’t win the last one…
One of the most fascinating aspects of Exo is the exploration of colonialism, and more so because of who it is being explored through – a person who has a position that places him in the middle of both sides. Along with the fact that it takes place a century into the colonization, where the colonizers, the Zhree, have made a comfortable place in the colonized society, restructuring human society in a way that mingles both their cultures, called erze. Donovan is the son of Prime Liasion for the Zhree-human relations, and despite being the son of an influential person, he is a soldier of SecPac, and has an exocel. Exocels are a genetic modification that select human children go through, which alters their physiology to make them stronger, and able to put up an armor (much like exoskeletons) at will. Donovan, who has been raised in this society and is now part of a soldier erze (by which his fellow group of soldiers are basically a family unit, apart from his father), has always, like the entire current human race, been under the Zhree, and can’t imagine what it would be like to live in pre-colonization times. They only know that it was a time of war, and they weren’t as technologically adept as now, and that they ultimately lost that war so they don’t exactly have the means to go up against them again.
Now, at this point you would expect a story of a lone hero rising up in revolution or something, but the political scenario of Exo is quite different. For starters, there has always been a revolution – there is a fringe society of humans calling themselves Sapience, who want to get rid of the Zhree, but also look at the people who accept Zhree colonization and live in erze and regard them as traitors to their kind. They are considered terrorists or revolutionaries to most of the human society, depending on where the latter are in place; for people like Donovan in SecPac, they are the enemy and extremists who take action without regard for how many lives it costs. Meanwhile, most of the humans don’t exactly reap the benefits of the Zhree in their midst – while the central nodes of the society have positions in the Zhree framework if they are docile enough to live there, and the exocels grant them better bodies, the rest don’t live with the same deal. But the Zhree also provide them protection against another alien race, which they are at war with, and who are claimed to be much more destructive, so keeping them around may also be in their interests. Exo brings up several such themes – about how bloody revolution can get, about the cost of freedom, about the assimilation of another culture, or the domination by another race that is technologically superior to your own. Coming from a colonized nation myself, I felt it raised these topics well, not fearing to get into grey territory as well.
Back to Donovan’s story – he gets captured on a routine raid, and is taken hostage into a Sapience camp, where he sees how the other side of human society lives. He also discovers something his family kept from him, and how he is a part of both sides of the conflict. His status as an Exo means he is considered apart from humans, an abomination to the Sapience particularly, and he’s not Zhree even though he has their technology embedded in him; making him both a part of and apart from both humans and Zhree. Also those family issues I mentioned? Oof! All I can say that, as a teenager, he is free to express all his angst. But knowing the other side of the conflict, too, makes him more determined to find a place of balance and peaceful coexistence. In the grand scheme of things, he is just an Exo soldier, but being connected to people in high places on both sides of this conflict, he has a unique position to get involved. He tries to find the right thing to do, to save the people he loves, to find a path that doesn’t involve violence and death.
If there’s one thing I didn’t like, it was the unnecessary romantic subplot – Donovan had enough things to build his story and characterization enough, so her addition feels superfluous. Thankfully it is minor, and as I am writing this review while in the middle of reading the sequel, I can sort of see why she is there, but that doesn’t change the fact that for this book, she feels inconsequential as a love interest. As for Sapience being the only human resistance of some consequence, I feel the addition of another group, with similar aims but different ideology would have been interesting to add into the mix.
Finally, as an audiobook, this is a fantastic listen with good narration and acting. Only downside is the surprising spellings I later looked up, haha.
Other books by the author
One thought on “Audiobook Review: Exo by Fonda Lee”
I loved Jade City, looking forwards to reading this one too!!