The Swan Riders

The Swan Riders by Erin Bow

The Swan Riders is the amazing sequel to The Scorpion Rules, both by Erin Bow. Do you ever wonder what it would be like to survive in a post-apocalyptic Canada in a world run by a snarky AI? If so, this is the series for you!


~~Here there be spoilers~~


Initial thoughts:


My first thought during this book was the same as the first one I had when reading The Scorpion Rules–




Seriously, he is the most compelling character I have ever read. Every time he shows up I freak out, and this book was 112% more of this crazy kid. What is it about him? Is it his sass? The fact that he could literally obliterate the entirety of the human race in a second? How deep down, he actually wants human connection and emotions and that he finds that in Greta(Seriously when are those two gonna kiss?????) Whatever it is, I can’t stop staring at him. I mean, reading about him. So if you are as big of a Talis fan as I am, The Swan Riders is definitely for you.


Also, can I just say, Talis meeting himself? The most entertaining thing I’ve read in a while.


The plot, as always, had twists and turns that demonstrated that Erin Bow is definitely a pantser who listens to her characters and lets them lead. We got insight into how the Swan Riders operate, but it brought up another question for me–aren’t there any swan riders who want to kill AIs? It was definitely unexpected and interesting that they were trying to impart humanity into the AIs in order to make them more empathetic, but with the amount of pain that the swan riders go through, it seems logical that at least some of them would want to destroy the AIs completely. Will we maybe see this group in the third book?


Next, where was my girl Da xia? Sure, we got some dreams about her and some creepy satellite spying moments, but she is clearly the fan fave(and Greta’s fav). Although I do appreciate that Erin Bow didn’t try to squeeze her into a story where she didn’t naturally belong. It makes sense that she’s still stuck at the Precepture while the other crazy kids are trying to make their way to the Red Mountains.


Speaking of, the Red Mountains–what a dope setting! I dig the ravens, creepy horse statues, and connected islands. Very cool and disturbing. Perfect place for Talis to live.


So, Da xia and Talis and Rachel and Francis Xavier. At first I wanted to say, where was the romance in this book? Elian doesn’t count. Talis and Da xia don’t do anything. Greta needs to get laid, seriously, I think we can all agree on that. But on second glance, I realized that this book does have a strong romance with Rachel and FX. Their love is central to the plot and helps Talis and Greta understand different sides of humanity. It was very sweet and sad. (but still, seriously, when is Talis going to make out with Greta I have been WAITING FOREVER).


Another interesting aspect of Talis is when he was in Rachel’s body. Does this count as trans representation? Also, when Talis and Rachel combined into one person, it was interesting to me that Greta never used they/them pronouns. She just kept switching between he and she in a seemingly random pattern. I’m very interested in gender in this book, especially with people hopping bodies all the time. What does it say about gender roles and how we feel mentally and emotionally versus our physical bodies?


A definite strength to this book was how it took the hero’s journey and completely THREW IT OUT THE WINDOW. In a good way. I love books that make me lose my place in the monomyth. It had a clear sense of cause and effect, and it really felt like Bow let the story go where it needed to go.


What we can learn about writing & worldbuilding from this book:


  • How many different ways can people relate to those in power? They can be on their side, or want to change them, or be completely against them. How and when do these groups collide?


  • What happens when someone is in a body that doesn’t match the body they identify with?


  • What happens when someone encounters their past self and has to articulate what they’ve learned?


  • Cause and effect. How do people react to a major event? When you blow up their city or kill their loved one?


  • How do people in power stay in power?


Did you read the Swan Riders? What did you think? Any recommendations for books with sarcastic robotic global dictators?


Photo by Lyanne Rodriguez

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