The first thing I thought of when I realized the title, Exo, referenced Donovan Reyes, an exo and the protagonist, aka a human all revved up, I realized exoskeletons was the only possible reference, a human fabricated set of bones and joints to replace human ones. The exo aren’t the only different ones that have touched human dirt, though. An alien race called the Zhree took over Earth about a hundred years ago, choosing it as a refugee camp with all these other alien forces at war. But that’s not what you focus on. Exos undergo a Hardening, having themselves reput together. It happened to Donovan when he was five and was in miserable pain for five straight days. He still remembers it. But now he’s a lot stronger and more stamina-filled than the humans he calls “squishies”. He’s also the Prime Liaison’s son, who’s Dominick Reyes, and Donovan forges an identity of his own by being an officer to protect the steadiness of the upper world from the terrorist group, Sapience. But when an arrest goes about as awry as an arrest can get, Donovan ends up having to think of whatever way he can to keep his brain from getting lead through it, and staying in health by drinking car oil.
I was worried about its conventional approach to its beginning, and before we know it, we’re thrust into a world with surprisingly unrelenting themes about terrorism and the law enforcement world. What’s more, this book has the advantage above others of including themes that feel like things are happening, and it’s all Donovan’s fault.
Donovan is also refreshingly masculine, used to the language of calling ordinary humans “squishies” and sapes “terrorists”, even in front of them. It also takes him a while to think there might be different versions of the perfect world, not knowing how he could be wrong because of all his years living in law enforcement up against the breakers and killers.
I also love the “Exos don’t negotiate with terrorists” approach. I mean, c’mon. That’s what every world leader has to say. Most people wouldn’t want someone to have to bow down to a country or leader that supports abortion bans and racism and punishments for opinion. Or at least, I hope most of us still don’t. But desperate times can pile up, and Exo sends the message that sometimes you just have to let your ego be scarred and talk/beg for the terrorists to reconsider. And I really liked that angle.
Also, like “An Ember in the Ashes” (the author of that book, Sabaa Tahir, also loves this one, glad she does), Exo automatically makes a world that feels like the people in charge are relentless to those who break the law, regardless of the story. And it’s not too long before the book ends up brutal in so many more ways than you could’ve first thought. Donovan convinces himself to do something that goes against everything he stood for, and not only does it not work and he wishes he’d been more attentive, but then that act ends up costing him another big chunk of him. People could also learn a lot from the fact when one of the exos ends up doing something wrong, he ends up with a sentence that ends up shorter than the time between when I finished the book and began typing this review. It satirizes our current penal system about as good as Trump does on a daily basis, except this time it’s well intended. The things that happen in Exo are so diabolical, I’m legit curious to imagine what would happen if he was the leader during all of this.
The political conflicts and the escalating danger to both sides of the Earth war are very creative and allow your mind to wonder what would happen if something lead to another. Also, Donovan is a great name. It’s the same name of one of my favourite characters from another series that really has a heart of gold underneath his shell of steel and spikes. This Donovan has that too, in denial about his soft side but realizing as time goes on how amazing life can really be. I love books that can do that realistically. Actually, right now as I’m typing this, on another window I’m staring at this picture of a male pit bull with the happiest smile in the world, and weighing maybe 90 pounds. The comparison rests.
Now, it took some time to dive into, especially since at first it feels like it will be a regular hostage book while bonding with a girl, including an early twist that feels a little too coincidental and conventional. It is when things start happening, partly being Donovan’s fault, and his refusal to stop saying the word “terrorist” and the realistic time it takes for him to digest facts from the other side of the argument, and the things that end up on his delicate back, when Exo really moves in operation. I cannot wait to get Cross Fire and see how and if it’s extinguished.