“War World” is one of those books that’s hard to define. It starts off as a science fiction, with secretive science/tech facilities run by the world’s top men and women finding cures to cancer and studying deep space. Then it switches modes and the science begins to evaporate real fast and turns into pure fantasy. THAT’S WHEN THINGS GET WEIRD. I know, you kind of expect weird just reading the synopsis—gnome assassins, wizards, and wormholes, oh my! But these top scientists need their high school children to come and rescue them when their expedition to a galaxy far, far away goes awry? Hmm… But honestly, that’s kind of fun so I’ll ship it. While Spence does a good job of blending science fiction with Terry Brooks levels of fantasy, that’s not the same for his main characters…
First let me talk about the good stuff. Spence is great with pacing. There was always something happening which propelled this story along. His writing and descriptions for the alien planets and the strange things the characters encounter is smooth even in the ARC version I have. I wouldn’t call this book science fiction as little of the science is explained, so most of the time the reader is just told to “go with it”. I mean their ride to a far off world is glossed over as just being a portal. A portal that can teleport people pretty instantaneously across all the galaxies without much explanation. It’s cool, so yes, I will just “go with it”, because, as I said, the author does a good job of writing those scenarios. But that, coupled with the alien races that turn into classic fantasy creatures the longer the reader stays on this new planet makes this science-fantasy, but mostly fantasy. Which I liked! But I feel this is important to know going into the book, because if you’re expecting more on the science side, it’s not going to be there. It’s still fun, but treat this more of a fantasy on a far off planet, and you’ll be good to go.
Now, bear with me here, because I have to take a moment (or several) to talk about the cast of characters we’re introduced to in “War World”. Good lord! There are a lot of people in this book, all of which you get a POV from at some point.
Obviously we spend the most time with the main-main character, Jeremy. Who is a stereotypical jock / black sheep of his family as he’s the only one who’s not brilliant. But we also get the POV of all the other teenagers that go with Jeremy. There are 5 of those kids. Plus, we get introduced to several of the TerraGen scientists, their security heads, some government type people, even an alien here and there, AND YOU GET TO BE IN ALL THEIR HEADS! It got very hard to keep some of these dudes apart (also, they are mainly guys, so there’s that). This becomes especially problematic for the government people, the security detail, and the TerraGen scientists. We get little flashes of them at random points all throughout the novel that you only ever get a brief sense of them, and a lot of their motives are duplicitous so that makes it doubly hard to keep track of who’s on who’s side, who is pretending to be good, and who is actually trying to help these kids out. You also get so little of each of them that I was never able to develop any sort of feelings for them—good or otherwise. They just felt “there”, their purpose flimsy, and their personalities tended to blend with one another. Often I wondered why we had so many of those characters instead of just one we got to know well who embodied the things we needed to know or feel towards these organizations.
And then there are the teenagers, all of whom feel kind of trope-y in that stereotypical high school way. Like the jocks (outside of Jeremy) are classic bullies, the nerds are unfit outcasts… that kind of thing. Most of them fall into the same trap as the adults, where so many of them are poorly fleshed out that I wondered why we needed their POV to begin with. Unfortunately, this is especially true for the two girls. This was actually my biggest issue. To avoid spoilers, I won’t use character names, but let’s just say one girl has her period specifically so they can say “oh no, the aliens can smell my menstrual cycle and are tracking us!” Plus her sudden cramps make her lag behind so the boys have to risk themselves to save her. Never mind that one of the guys with her is an out of shape nerd. Does he get a cramp or anything? Nope. Definitely not. Something similar happens with the other girl. She’s running after her two male “friends”, one is a jock, one is a skinny nerd, and she can’t keep up with them to save her life, literally (also, the nerd has no problem matching the jock step for step). As she struggles to run, she ruminates that her father had always wanted a son, so she wishes she had been born a guy so she could, essentially, be more athletic. That’s on top of her being a painfully stereotypical girl who only cares about fashion and is generally portrayed as an air headed damsel. Yeah… I have so, so many issues with this that it still makes me mad!
The book tends to be kind of sexist in that regard. There are several places where the metaphors used are things like (and I’m paraphrasing): “He held on like a petite woman at a Black Friday shoe sale” and “his coach said he had the arm to be quarter back, if his aim wasn’t as bad as a dyslexic 7-year-old-girl.” I'm going to let you marinate on that last one for a moment... Now, if those metaphors had been on their own, ok, I can say the author was trying to be cheeky in a way he thought meat heads would be, but that coupled with how he writes his female characters… It doesn’t feel like a coincidence to me. Granted, I did have an advanced reader copy of the book so all of this may have been corrected by the time the book was released, but I can only go off what was in the copy I read.
Honestly, if it weren’t for the characters, I’d rate this book higher. While I may not enjoy how the teenagers are written, others may have no problem with it, as is the nature of opinions in book reviews. Still, as a woman who plays a lot of sports, is also a video game nerd, smart, and also cares about clothes and make-up, I couldn’t enjoy these characters, regardless of how much they did (or don’t, as the case may be) resemble real people. Spence has a wonderful imagination when it comes to envisioning the planet the characters find themselves on, and I really liked the comic book-like illustrations at the start of each chapter, but characters are key for me.
If you’re a fan of science-fantasy, like the Shannara Chronicles, and identify as a young man (there’s no swearing, but sometimes the violence can be graphic), then you’ll probably like “War World” more than I did. For me, this is just an ok read when I distance myself from my personal annoyance. So I’m giving it a 2.5 stars despite the awesome looking cover. Thanks to the author for providing a copy of the book for me to review!