Kindreds: An Alliance of Bloods by Tani Mura

Ms. Mura uses her book to discuss critical topics such as racism, gender roles, the balance between democracy and authoritarianism, and religion, and she does all of this in the context of an action-adventure in the distant future. Most of the story is through the perspective of Raine, a young woman bent on finding her own path.

The subject matter is the greatest strength of Ms. Mura’s work, but she deals with it too directly and leaves out the fun of the readers conducting the analysis for themselves. Also, she tends to give away what the characters are thinking and feeling, which takes away some subtlety and nuance from the story that I’d have like to have seen. The ending also left too much open. It felt more like the conclusion of a chapter than a resolution to a novel. Despite the issues with Kindreds, it was an entertaining book that made my heart race a few times, presented an unapologetically strong female lead, and dealt with issues that’ll be important as long as there’s a human race.

The biggest problem with the work is the presentation of the ideas that Ms. Mura deals with. More often than not, characters have long monologues or philosophical debates with each other directly presenting contrasting viewpoints. In addition, there is a lot of time spent in the characters’ heads listening to them ask rhetorical questions and reason their way through these ideas in the context they appear in the world. It brings the issues into focus, but it does so at the expense of letting the reader organically work his or her way through them.

I think it’s generally better to present a world and ideas to the reader without judgment. Everyone knows that murder is bad, and if it happens in a story, we’ll not look too kindly on the character responsible. But, when the other characters all discuss it openly in sweeping terms of human philosophy, and when we’re outright told it’s bad, it makes up our mind for us. There’s nothing left to think about, so events that would normally hit with much greater impact lose most of their force. That’s not to say the story wasn’t enjoyable, but most of the time the author told me what the issues were and what to think about them. It would have been better if the characters had simply taken action based on their unstated beliefs and left me to work it out on my own.

Also, there’s always the risk that dealing with any big idea such as authoritarianism too directly as a philosophical debate between characters will come across as preachy. I agreed with just about everything the author had to say about the subject, but that was the problem. It was more what the author had to say about it than the characters. They were very much vehicles for a debate rather than participants in it. Every time Ms. Mura showed me the awful things that can happen due to racism, I never had time to let it sink in before one of the characters jumped in and gave a small speech on the matter.

There was also the issue that half the time the author tells the reader exactly what the characters are thinking or feeling, and the characters tend to think ‘aloud’ in terms of italics. This is a style that I really don’t enjoy, and it takes a lot of the pleasure out of reading for me when I know what people are thinking, why they think that way, and what they’re going to do about it. I enjoy being surprised, and there’s nothing quite like having a character do something you never thought he or she was capable of that forces you, as a reader, to reassess your initial opinion of the character. Again, it strips mystery and intrigue from the story.

It’s a testament to how strong a woman I felt Raine was that the ending didn’t leave me satisfied. She literally didn’t get the last word; instead, one of the male characters told her something rather life changing at what I consider one of the worst times possible, and the book cut off there. I really enjoyed watching her overcome the challenges she faced, and to end it on a note where she doesn’t have complete agency, and doesn’t absolutely own everything that’s happened to her, really didn’t fit with the tone of the rest of the book, especially the finale.

Despite the issues with the book, I enjoyed it. It was easy to read, well-paced, and there were several moments that got my pulse racing. I spend a lot of time working with fiction in one capacity or another, so it’s saying something when I have to set a book down and pace around for a moment to get the twitches out of my system. There was one moment near the end of the book when something happens to Raine that provoked a visceral response from me. It was a solid effort, and there aren’t enough fantasy and science fiction novels with strong female leads for my tastes. Raine is, if nothing else, a character the reader can respect, and that speaks volumes.

If you want to pick up a copy, you can get it from Amazon here. It’s worth a read, and even if most of the issues are presented too directly, they’re ones worth thinking about. And, for a younger reader, the direct presentation may not be quite the issue it was for me.

 

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