Afterwar by Lilith Saintcrow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book was hard to read, and I can only imagine how tough it was to write. It's basically the American politics of today set 80 years in the future, with the widening divide and heightened polarization that has exploded into an all-out Second Civil War. There is eugenics and "Firsters," "kamps" (with all the attendant, Nazi-era horrors) holding "immies" and "partisans," and the last dying gasp of a white-supremacist culture that has been beaten back yet again, as this country seems destined to do over and over. It's unfortunately all too plausible, and it's scary as hell.
This is the story of Swann's Riders, a mercenary team of raiders at the very end of the war, tasked with hunting down a war criminal with information the Russians, among others, are also hot on the trail of. This information concerns genetic and medical experimentation in a certain kamp, with unwilling victims given what amounts to psychic powers, in an attempt to create a deadly new breed of Firster soldier. Our nominal protagonist, Lara Nelson, was also at said kamp, a victim of those experiments. She manages to escape from there, only to land in another kamp, where she is forced to work in the brothel as the favorite of one of the kamp kommanders, Eugene Thomas...the same monster the Riders are now hunting. (We spend a few chapters in Thomas's POV, which was a deeply unpleasant experience. It's chilling how the philosphies of hierarchies and "knowing one's place" inevitably lead to some people being regarded as less human than others, and making the atrocities described here oh so easy.) The fight scenes are brutal; Saintcrow gets right down into the blood and guts and mud, and while that was necessary for this story, just be aware that she pulls no punches.
There's a remoteness about many of the characters, a thin veneer of distance from the reader and what the characters suffered, in the writing style. For instance, I wish there could have been a tighter focus on Lara, but at the same time, I don't know if as a reader I could have taken it. This is a harrowing book, even with the sliver of hope at the end, after the Riders have tracked down Thomas and destroyed his information. I wish I could say that something like this couldn't happen here...but unfortunately, I know that's not true.
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