The scarcity of comments as I review my notes is a good indication of how caught up in the story I was. This is a teenage adventure full of unrequited love, trauma and disaster, unexpected allies, and most importantly, the main character coming into her own. Set in an alternate timeline matching ours, aliens are hidden among us and most of the population is oblivious. That factor allows for interesting methods the aliens use to stay unnoticed, and hiding is not the only compelling technique or piece of alien equipment I ran into. What makes these elements even better is how they are woven into the story and may have significance later. Some of the alien terms confused me, specifically the difference between kobbi and dashia, but the story intrigued me enough to keep going as I put the pieces together.
The story starts with Twyla as a teenage girl more interested in playing games on her computer than doing her homework. This impression of a happy family lasts barely a page before everything is torn apart. Twyla soon learns the full circumstances that led to her adoption by an Earth couple when before she had only a child’s traumatized recollection. The story loses all pretense of normalcy and goes dark fast as her mother shows exactly how far she’s willing to go to reclaim Twyla. Twyla goes from anticipating all the fun she’s going to have with her friends on her birthday to running for her life in short order. Cassie, her biological mother, is an expert manipulator. No matter how much Twyla believes, if she’d run away, things would have turned out differently, the only difference would have been not witnessing what happens. Whether direct twisting through empathic powers or being a tool in a war Twyla doesn’t agree with, there’s more than circumstance complicating Twyla’s existence. She has a destiny she rejects, but her mother isn’t willing to take no for an answer and has the ability to get her way whatever Twyla wants.
This is not aliens versus humans. The aliens are neither all on the bad or good side but rather as complicated and mixed as the diverse cultures on Earth. Nor are we looking at random malicious acts. It’s not so simple. The reasons can’t make her actions right in my eyes, but I’m able to see what pushed Twyla’s mother and her people to where they are in the story. Actions have consequences, and changes don’t occur in a vacuum, making this a stronger tale even as the aggressors are clear from the choices they make. Still, with some adjustments, the genetically manipulated mercenaries betrayed by their creators could have been the sympathetic side. This makes Cassie understandable even when I didn’t agree with her methods.
Speaking to the complexity, it’s not always apparent where the secondary actors fall. There were many times when I took a side comment as a hint of loyalties less well established. Often the original draw proved strong enough to wipe out any questioning, if there had been any in the first place, but for the characters to gain my sympathy even for a minute speaks to how well-crafted they were. A character must achieve better than two dimensions before they are capable of balking at their intended role.
Escaping the Dashia offers an interesting, complex world revealed bit by bit. There are dark moments–enough to break a person–but the emotional and physical violence never felt gratuitous, and the conflict is grounded in betrayal and cultural war. Twyla’s birth mother is a true nightmare, with aspirations threatening the whole universe. Twyla is not alone, though. She finds allies, sometimes in unexpected places, who are good people willing to risk everything to help.
Twyla faces challenges and difficulties that would have overwhelmed most people. Her concerns for those who join her are not only valid, but a sign of how she cares for others, which made me like her more. A strong cast and the main character evolving before our eyes makes this a moving story. The book ends on a solid, satisfying note, but the world is big enough to leave me wondering what the future holds, a desire soon to be answered when the second novel releases.
P.S. I received this Advanced Reader Copy from the author in hopes of an honest review.