Sunday, December 19, 2021

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson


The first time I read this book was as an ARC when it first came out and I couldn't stop thinking about it. THE SUMMER PRINCE was one of the first diverse sci-fi-fantasy books I ever read and it totally blew me away. It's set in a dystopian matriarchal society in a futuristic Brazil, where all of the leaders are women and everyone old expects to live to two hundred. They elect their kings in an elaborate, Hunger Games-like ceremony every five years, and the king, in turn, chooses his new queen one year later: on the day of his sacrificial execution.

Our heroine, June, is an activist/artist, kind of like a female Banksy. She does all of these elaborate art pranks and one of these is at the very beginning, with her friend Gil, to help elect the underdog choice: a boy from the very worst parts of Palmares Tres named Enki. The prank works and the three of them end up first as glamorous poster children for the opulent party scene, and then as icons of rebellion. As the year goes on, the three of them become incredibly close: Gil and Enki become lovers and June starts to fall for him too, all the while, his fate hangs over the three of them like the sword of Damocles.

I think I loved this book just as much the second time. I loved the way Brazilian culture and the Portuguese language are woven into the story. I liked the heroine's passion for art, and how it ends up taking a more political bent as she sees more of the injustice that's inherent in the system that she's been blind to because of her privilege. I liked how there wasn't really a lot of slut-shaming, and how all of the characters in this book felt like real people making real decisions in this fantastic backdrop. It takes a while to get into, but I think the heroine sells the world-building, and her melancholy and wistfulness end up making this a pretty devastating read, especially as the story winds to the end.

I was a bit torn on whether to give this a four or a five. It's not a perfect book, but it's still a very, very good one, so I've decided to round up because I've never read anything like it before and I still love it.

4.5 out of 5 stars

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