Life in the Seventh District is difficult. At the back of a fleet of starships that is currently ferrying humanity through space, Aisha Un-Haad doggedly shields her younger siblings from the hardships of the lower class. But when her brother contracts a brutal illness, Aisha knows her janitor’s salary won’t pay for quality treatment. So she makes the harrowing choice to “take the metal”—to become Scela, a mechanically enhanced soldier whose sole purpose is to take orders from the General Body and protect the fleet during its search for a habitable world.
After surgery, Aisha joins a crew of young Scela who are adjusting to life as something more—or less—than human. Among them is Key Tanaka, a privileged girl from First District. While Scela are supposed to retain their human memories, Key has only vague recollections of her life before, and a disturbing blank space instead of the memory of why she elected to take the metal. Aisha and Key share strong wills and fierce emotion, but not much else, making it hard for them to mesh as a Scela unit. But their unit’s success becomes the least of their worries when they find themselves at the center of a simmering conflict between the General Body and a rebellious faction. Not everything is what it seems, and Aisha, Key and their unit may be the only Scela who can change the course of the fleet’s history.
Emily Skrutskie (The Abyss Surrounds Us) makes excellent use of dual narrators to highlight the nuances of Aisha and Key’s arguments and their gradual gain of respect for one another. Inventive, exciting and often moving, Skrutskie’s novel portrays realistic conflict between young women, centered on their values and personalities, rather than a superficial rivalry.