Series: Nightside Saga #1
Rumor Mora fears two things: hellhounds too strong for him to kill, and failure. Jude Welton has two dreams: for humans to stop killing monsters, and for his strange abilities to vanish.
But in no reality should a boy raised to love monsters fall for a boy raised to kill them.
Nyx Llorca keeps two secrets: the moon speaks to her, and she's in love with her best friend, Dahlia. Braeden Tennant wants two things: to get out from his mother's shadow, and to unlearn his colony's darkest secret.
To save everyone they love, they'll both have to commit treason.
During one twenty-seven-hour night, these four runaways must stop the war between the colonies and the monsters from becoming a war of extinction, or the things they fear most will be all that's left.
So… 27 Hours by Tristina Wright. It’s made quite a splash in the online YA circles I frequent for a couple of reasons, notably its positive queer representation and its problematic race representation.
I picked the book up specifically so I could familiarise myself with the asexual representation and here we are. If you’d like a detailed discussion of the race relationships and the problematic nature of the portrayal, this review will give you a lot of details on what to expect. I strongly recommend reading it.
And… Let’s just say that I agree with it. I found the way the narration discusses the chimera deeply uncomfortable to read precisely because so little of the way the narrative discusses the colonisation of the planet reflects on its choice of language. I’m struggling to word it and my experience, as a white person, is very different from Aimal’s, whose review I linked, but while I appreciated the way 27 Hours tried to comment on problems we face nowadays, I felt that it didn’t really examine how it did this within its own narrative. Rumor, for example, spends almost a whole scene reflecting on how one of the chimera is neither an it nor a beast. The analogues to how white people have viewed just about everyone else are glaringly uncomfortable.
But, as I said, I read this predominantly for the asexual representation and that’s what I wanted to talk about. I like Braeden as a character. Keep that in mind because I don’t think you’ll believe me once I’m done talking about the asexual representation.
Which, by the by, leads me directly to the worldbuilding. This is set a couple of hundred years into the future. It is, supposedly, so long ago that racial prejudice has entirely disappeared and the people on Sahara only have a single language (with no dialectal differences between the various colonies despite seemingly not sharing a lot of direct contact with one another). Dahlia appears not to face any transmisia and Yi-Min also sees their gender identity and pronouns casually accepted. Yet Braeden still expresses fears that being asexual means he’s broken. He still wears an ace pride ring. He doesn’t acknowledge that romantic and sexual orientations are two different things. And it bothered me. A lot.
As Aimal notes, this is set about 8 generations (maximum) from today and we’re supposed to believe that racial and linguistic differences have vanished, as well as that transgender and nonbinary people are casually accepted within society, but the acceptance of asexual people has… just halted and not changed in any way from 2016’s state of acceptance?
I accept that in the novel’s stated time frame (the titular 27 hours), there isn’t a whole lot of time to explore just how amisic Saharan societies are or aren’t and, certainly, Braeden’s friends and family don’t seem to have any problems with it. It just sat extremely wrong since society was shown to have made progress on everything else. And while I understand the desire to give asexual readers a teen who struggles with these issues for them to identify with, Braeden sadly wound up reading more like a walking set of stereotypes of asexuality that got pasted onto an otherwise awesome character.
Seriously, Braeden is sarcastic and loves one-lines, and he’s a hell of a shot and thinks nothing of charging into a tunnel that adult trained marines are supposedly afraid to enter in order to try and save a friend’s friend or of sacrificing his life to do the right thing. Braeden is, pardon the pun, pretty ace.
But also he ends up reading inconsistently in ways I don’t think Wright meant. For example, Braeden as he’s introduced is sketched as someone who is quite proudly asexual and comfortable with himself. Later, we learn that he is hiding feelings of being broken because he’s asexual, but the narrative never really goes into any depth to suggest that his ace pride and his love of ace puns are him overcompensating to hide how not-okay he is.
Further, he’s strongly coded as aroace, though Wright has stated that he isn’t. And, okay, fine. I didn’t hear about aromanticism until several years after asexuality. Not all aces are going to do a ton of research immediately upon finding the words. Some will do just enough to get the surface information and then go sit on that for a few years as they work through that. I would 100% accept Braeden being someone who doesn’t feel the need to do a lot of research and that, therefore, he’s not at a point where he’s thinking about his romantic orientation much. That interpretation stands at odds with the note that he feels broken for me, but it’s a characterisation that works for me, in part because it’s familiar. But, the thing is? His narrative literally says that he’s looking for something that isn’t a romantic relationship. I’ll quote it, because I have more to say about it than this:
Even though it was man and machine, there seemed to be a bond there. A bond Braeden didn’t have with anyone. The closest he came was with Nyx, which was special and he wouldn’t trade that for anything, but it didn’t fill that hole in his chest. That hole that wanted a connection. Not a boyfriend or a girlfriend or even another best friend. He had friends. He had close friends.
He didn’t have a bond.
Emphasis is mine. So what he actually says is that he’s not looking for a boyfriend or a girlfriend. But these words are strictly romantic ways to describe someone close to them, so the narrative is actively telling us that whatever bond Braeden is looking for, a romantic one isn’t it. At another, later point in the book, he also says “I don’t pretend to know the first thing about romance, but I know you and Dahlia” further indicating that Braeden is aromantic as well as asexual.
For contrast, let me show you the description of Braeden talking about his sexuality:
Pain flitted across Braeden’s face before he turned his back on everyone, hiding his face from her. Hiding how he was the colony commander’s son and more was expected from him. Hiding how he wondered if he was broken because he was seventeen and didn’t care about sex when none of their friends would shut up about it. Hiding how he loved Nyx and loved Dahlia but didn’t know how to translate that into a way that was comfortable for himself. Hiding so he could slip his mask back into place and smile.
Emphasis still mine. I’m noting that line in particular because in the first half of the book, this is about the only hint we get that Braeden isn’t aromantic: the idea that he loves Dahlia and Nyx and doesn’t know what to do with that at all. It’s also never explored – though it’s brought up once more in a conversation with Trick when he tells Trick love doesn’t need to be romance in order for it to be love – and the rest of the narrative strongly implies that his feelings for both of them are strictly platonic. And… It’s possible that he’s talking about platonic love here, sure, but the context, stating it directly after discussing his feelings about being asexual when his friends aren’t and without any kind of acknowledgement that aromanticism exists, lends itself far more to the interpretation that he is talking about romantic feelings that he doesn’t quite understand.
A later scene, where the narrative remarks that he’s not good at interpreting people’s emotions because “attraction was weird” – yes, without the qualifier for which, but since he’s talking about watching Nyx struggle with her unrequited love whilst watching Dahlia and Dahlia’s ex-boyfriend share an intimate moment, I would assume it means sexual attraction – so that would further suit the interpretation that Braeden may be alloromantic or demiromantic and simply hasn’t explored that aspect of his identity yet. But that still doesn’t answer why he hasn’t when the worldbuilding suggests that, by rights, he probably should be in a situation where he’s at the very least heard of romantic orientation being distinct from sexual orientation, even if he’s chosen not to explore that.
The bond the narrative is talking about, by the by, is an artificial bond between a marine and a machine-cat used to protect the colony. Braeden’s stated earlier in the book that his ambition in life is to become a marine like that (as opposed to what his mothers want for him). Especially combined with the note about Braeden’s struggles with understanding other people’s emotions and a later note that Braeden wants to escape Sahara and leave everyone (except maybe his friends) behind to go explore the stars on his own, this concept skirts uncomfortably close to suggesting that asexuals struggle with emotions and can’t form close relationships (outside of friendships) with other people and the whole trope where aces are in some way (self-)exiled or otherwise not a part of society.
Anyway, that all said, I’ll remind you that I actually really like Braeden as a character and, I’ll be honest, if I’d read this book when I was a teenager or just starting to discover asexual representation in books, I would be all over Braeden and adore him and this rep to piece. Because, fun fact, for all that I have just griped about his portrayal as being stereotypical because it’s an unexamined spot of worldbuilding and playing far more into ace tropes than I was expecting, there are a lot of points on which Braeden is, I think, important representation. There are aces like Braeden! They deserve to have representation too.
But, also, while I personally may not like the choice that Wright made in this book, I think there’s a lot of value in it. Out of all the asexuals in fiction I’ve read to date, Braeden is the one who most reads like the kind of representation that I needed when I first discovered asexuality. This is a book that, unequivocally and unapologetically, says “Asexuals are valuable community members, capable of kicking ass and having deep, strong emotional bonds” and it’s using the ace stereotype that it’s including not just to say that but to tie those qualities and positive notes to an asexual character in a way that no one will be able to misinterpret as “Actually, Braeden isn’t asexual. That’s just asexuals’ wishful thinking”. It relies far too much on specific asexual stereotypes on top of the explicit use of the label to be so easily rewritten or dismissed. And I suspect that this is going to resonate with a lot of asexual readers, especially since with other prominent asexual characters it’s actually pretty easy to imagine someone… allowashing them in fanfiction and having people accept it without question. Braeden? Not so much.
So the asexual representation is actually a really mixed bag for me because I think I can see where Wright was headed with it and I think it’s important rep to have, but at the same time there are some tropes and issues that I really wish hadn’t been there and some that I wish there had. (Or, at least, that the narrative had taken the time to acknowledge them even briefly. I’m sorry, but I just can’t buy “In 200+ years, society made progress on everything except asexual and aromantic awareness”.)
Returning, briefly, to the depiction of the chimera and the human settlers, because I don’t recall anyone mentioning it, but… During the climax of the book, when everyone is working together to stop the book’s main antagonist, one of the chimera dies. And while no one gets out of that battle unscathed and the chimera is certainly not the only person to die in the course of the novel, I don’t recall any significant humans dying to take down the main antagonist of the book. Which… struck me as relevant to the discussion of how the book handles race when it comes to the actual premise of the narrative. Especially considering the death ends up becoming plot-relevant a little later. So it just sat wrong with me.
Also it includes probably my least favourite way to end a book: a cliffhanger of the “Things just got infinitely worse. Wait. Where’s the rest of the story?” kind. But that’s a personal preference. I think it does actually work within the story itself.
And now that I’ve extensively covered what I didn’t like, let’s talk about what I did like because I read this book through in two sittings, both times staying up until about 3 am before I managed to put the book down.
The book features a ton of queer representation. Most all of it on-page labelled at some point or another. 27 Hours is delightfully, unapologetically queer and it revels in showing people a variety of different queer relationships, from Nyx’s unrequited love for Dahlia to Rumor and Jude navigating their budding attraction to misinterpretations of how people relate to one another. It’s, at times, awkward in exactly the way you want it to be and it’s easy, so easy, to see why the book has gotten so much hype for the way it portrays queer characters. It’s because the way it portrays them (or attempts to portray them; looking at you, Braeden) is so sympathetic, positive and inclusive. And the book tries to be incredibly intersectional in a way that, if I’m honest, I’ve only ever seen one other author try to do this way. Wright, if I recall, set out to create a book in which marginalised teenagers see themselves and, certainly when it comes to queer representation alone, she succeeds very well. One of the characters is also Deaf, something which Wright never forgets, so the intersectionality in the book as a whole extends to disabled characters as well.
The narrative itself, taking place over 27 hours, is fast-paced and engaging. It manages an impressive balance between action and rest, giving readers a good chance to get to know the characters and to recover a little from the events that are unfolding. If you like a lot of details in your fiction and worldbuilding, the pace is probably a bit too fast for you with the descriptions you’re given unbalanced between the layout of the setting and the worldbuilding details of the setting (such as what automatons are and how they relate to the colonies). If you enjoy picking details up as you go along and figuring them out as you learn more, though, it’s a great and snappy read. The dialogues are largely fun and focused on banter. (My biggest weakness in novels. Give me all the banter.)
I thought it was a really fun read, even with the issues it has regarding representation, and I’m glad that I picked it up. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for the sequel, wherein I hope we’ll get some more answers and which will hopefully address the issues in this book.
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