Review of Rebelwing by Tracy Banghart

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Amazon (Kindle) / Barnes & Nobles/ Indiebound

Reviewer: Lindsey

The Dominion of Atalanta is at war. But for eighteen-year-old Aris, the fighting is nothing more than a distant nightmare, something she watches on news vids from the safety of her idyllic seaside town. Then her boyfriend, Calix, is drafted into the Military, and the nightmare becomes a dangerous reality.

Left behind, Aris has nothing to fill her days. Even flying her wingjet–the thing she loves most, aside from Calix–feels meaningless without him by her side. So when she’s recruited to be a pilot for an elite search-and-rescue unit, she leaps at the chance, hoping she’ll be stationed near Calix. But there’s a catch: She must disguise herself as a man named Aristos. There are no women in the Atalantan Military, and there never will be.

Aris gives up everything to find Calix: her home. Her family. Even her identity. But as the war rages on, Aris discovers she’s fighting for much more than her relationship. With each injured person she rescues and each violent battle she survives, Aris is becoming a true soldier–and the best flyer in the Atalantan Military. She’s determined to save her Dominion . . . or die trying.

Most of us have probably experienced times we couldn’t be ourselves, when being ourselves wasn’t approved of, moments when we had to act as someone we’re not. Now imagine doing that 24/7, indefinitely and VOLUNTARILY. Sounds nutty, right? But it’s this daunting feat Aris, the protagonist of Rebel Wing, exhibits. Moreover, not only does she give up her identity by posing as a man, but in doing so she joins the Military Unit of her country to fight a war they’re badly losing.

So, what gave rise to this situation, you wonder? Love. And misogyny. When Aris’ boyfriend, Calix, gets drafted, this not only jumbles their plans,  but also leaves her with empty, meaningless days and a lack of purpose. So when she’s approached to become a flyer for the military, she eagerly joins; hoping to be with Calix again. Since “ There are no women in the Atalantan Military, and there never will be” (chapter 57), Aris is forced to pose as a man and leave behind her identity and life as Aris. This is quite the sacrifice and it definitely shouldn’t be made lightly, but sometimes it’s easier than doing nothing, than accepting the way things are and riding it out. It’s an impressive and brave move; it’s speaks volumes of passion and dedication and it’s precisely this move that blew me away and made me go from liking and understanding Aris to admiring her. The moment she makes this choice everything changes for her and the novel changes with it. The story takes off from this point and is chock full of adventure, excitement and intrigue. It’s an emotional rollercoaster at a high pace.

Unsurprisingly, our lovers don’t meet up right away: When Aris arrives at her stationpoint, her boyfriend isn’t there. This doesn’t bug me since Calix tends to get on my nerves (he’s too conservative, overbearing, and stiff for my taste), and more importantly it serves the story well: Aris grows and deepens as a character, she evolves, and becomes more and more who she’s supposed to be. It also provides ample opportunity to explore and deepen other plotlines. If Aris met up with her boyfriend right away, the story would have taken a different direction and would have placed too much emphasis on their relationship and not enough on their world at large. The relationship merely serves as the catalyst for Aris joining the military and as the foundation on which Banghart builds her sci-fi dystopian world. Banghart’s use of terms and names, which are unique to this story, helps you to easily enter this world with its unique customs, and gives life to it. However, this sci-fi world isn’t that original or elaborate, but does that really matter when you have captivating plotlines and great characters? In addition; it makes the world and its customs easy to understand, which helps the story to maintain its high pace.

Throughout the novel Aris grows: We meet her as a timid, self-doubting girl (due to a leg injury) who is stubborn albeit somewhat dependant. She never imagined nor desired leaving her hometown, but Aris actually flourishes away from home and her boyfriend; Steadily transforming into a strong-willed, independent woman who believes in herself and her abilities. And ironically; developing an identity of her own while pretending to be someone else. However Aris is not the only strong woman in this novel: The woman who trains Aris as a soldier, other female soldiers Aris meets along the way,  and the president of a neighbouring country… Each of these ladies display that they can stand their ground and are just as capable, sometimes even more so than the men around them. That is not to say that the men are redundant: There are plenty of strong and capable men as well. What’s impressive about this is that Banghart portrays the strengths of her characters fairly gender-neutral. The strengths of her characters, both men and women alike, is portrayed in a way that suits their personality; they’re befitting. It is not bound by how women and men are ‘supposed’ to be strong.

With that many interesting characters it goes without saying that the novel has several plotlines, which Banghart eventually skilfully intertwines. It takes most of the novel for some of the plotlines to come together and while this adds to the mystery and suspense, it eventually became boring to me and felt too prolonged.  Although many of those plotlines feature brave and heroic deeds,  Banghart doesn’t shy away from disturbing and emotional events either, nor is she afraid of delving into the emotions these events elicit. Though overall the story is upbeat and centers on persevering.

While love is a substantial theme for this novel, it isn’t a romance novel. It’s sci-fi world also isn’t elaborate enough to properly call it a sci-fi novel either so those of you who’d want that, should look somewhere else. Instead Rebelwing is about following your heart, discovering your values and having the courage to act accordingly, political games, and persevering although the system is against you and tells you you’re not suited to do what you want. All the while this novel deftly brings attention to sexism and advocates gender equality, without being overtly preaching and yammering. This all sounds like heavy stuff, which it is, but it is subtle enough that you could easily set it aside should you desire so. The novel is highly entertaining, exciting, and captivating. The themes are universal and well-balanced so the novel can be enjoyed by just about anyone. Obviously, I’m very taken by this novel and therefore extremely pleased that it’s part of a trilogy of which the other installments also have been published. I can highly recommend this novel for many types of reading as its multifacetedness is sure to provide otherworldly pleasure.

 

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