Review of War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi

The year is 2172. Climate change and nuclear disasters have rendered much of earth unlivable. Only the lucky ones have escaped to space colonies in the sky.
In a war-torn Nigeria, battles are fought using flying, deadly mechs and soldiers are outfitted with bionic limbs and artificial organs meant to protect them from the harsh, radiation-heavy climate. Across the nation, as the years-long civil war wages on, survival becomes the only way of life.
Two sisters, Onyii and Ify, dream of more. Their lives have been marked by violence and political unrest. Still, they dream of peace, of hope, of a future together.
And they’re willing to fight an entire war to get there.

A sci-fi dystopian set in Nigeria sounded exactly like the kind of book I would love, whilst I’m not usually a “people cover” fan I did really love the look on this one and it did really match in with how the story played out. I’m going to come clean and say that I had no idea that there had been a civil war in Nigeria, and the Nigerians and the Biafrans were the warring sides. I took the opportunity to educate myself a little on this and I’m glad I did as it not only opened my eyes to the conflict, but also brought home a deeper sense of what drove each side and the horrors suffered.

War Girls is set in 3 parts and they do actually form a distinct period in the lives of Onyii and Ify, quite often I find that parts don’t really have much use and don’t really help with the story, which was thankfully not the case here. We start on the side of Biafra and I have to say that this opening was pretty full throttle. The War Girls camp is bleak, but it’s an existence that still values education despite whats happening around it – a sense of hope and that maybe something better could be possible. I found Onyii and Ify strange counterparts though, I felt there wasn’t much of a connection between them, which became clear in a manner of sorts fairly early on. We are quickly into battle territory though with fast paced all out battles involving technologies so advanced I had to double take. However, by taking this all action approach at the start I felt I never really got the chance to bond with the characters or learn enough about that scenario to leave me in a strong place moving forward. The second part gives us more insight into Nigeria, and the differences between the two could not be starker. This was where I was most glad I had learnt a bit about things beforehand but unfortunately this section felt very pedestrian and I did struggle with the story a lot at this point. The separate paths felt like reading about two strangers and it was actually what was taking place around Onyii and Ify at this point that kept the story going, the heartbreaking reality behind those captive of the war and the “rose” blooms of blood being an image that really stayed with me.

There are also some lovely interludes between the parts which gives a strangely unique vision of things, these were a great touch and gave a more hopeful side of things even within the desolation.  The final part I have to say was my favourite of the 3.  It at last became the story that I was hoping it would have been from the start, it was like reading a different book. Situations arose which finally allowed my feelings for the characters to click into place, I found myself actually caring about the sisters and I felt that there was some emotion between them which made me want to keep reading and to find out what happened next. The drive and pace was spot on and loose ends that had been laid like breadcrumbs throughout came together wonderfully, I was actively willing things to work out! I was angry with Onyii’s later decisions sadly but I honestly can’t go into the reasons why. I was surprised to learn this was the first of the books as actually it worked well as a standalone with an openness which gave me freedom of imagination.

Ultimately, I found the concept of their characters being heavily played upon as “sisters” a bit of a misstep, they’ve adopted each other as such, but that emotional depth just isn’t there and doesn’t deliver on the blurb particularly which left me disappointed. The fights and battle elements are brilliantly written and visual imagery of the fighting machines shows fantastic imagination on the authors part. Had the middle part had the same edge as the last I think I would have enjoyed this a lot more. I am incredibly grateful as always to the publishers for sending me a finished copy to review but on this occasion I didn’t love the story as much as I’d hoped too. There are some great moments though and I’ll give this 3*.

 

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