Confusing But Still Good: Linden A. Lewis – The Second Rebel

Linden A. Lewis’ debut The First Sister didn’t make quite the splash I expected it to, judging from the marketing. But I, for my part, really liked it and wanted to learn more about this world and these characters. Things you can get away with in a debut should improve in the second novel, so I was more than excited to dive into this world again. I picked up the audiobook version again because I loved the multiple narrators, and this time, we even got an extra one. SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST SISTER BELOW!!!

THE SECOND REBEL
by Linden A. Lewis

Published: Skybound Books, 2021
eBook: 516 pages
Audiobook: 19 hours 45 minutes
Series: The First Sister # 2
My rating: 6.75/10

Opening line: I can’t move in my coffin.

Linden A. Lewis returns with this next installment of The First Sister Trilogy, perfect for fans of Red RisingThe Handmaid’s Tale, and The Expanse.

Astrid has reclaimed her name and her voice, and now seeks to bring down the Sisterhood from within. Throwing herself into the lioness’ den, Astrid must confront and challenge the Aunts who run the Gean religious institution, but she quickly discovers that the business of politics is far deadlier than she ever expected.

Meanwhile, on an outlaw colony station deep in space, Hiro val Akira seeks to bring a dangerous ally into the rebellion. Whispers of a digital woman fuel Hiro’s search, but they are not the only person looking for this link to the mysterious race of Synthetics.

Lito sol Lucious continues to grow into his role as a lead revolutionary and is tasked with rescuing an Aster operative from deep within an Icarii prison. With danger around every corner, Lito, his partner Ofiera, and the newly freed operative must flee in order to keep dangerous secrets out of enemy hands.

Back on Venus, Lito’s sister Lucinia must carry on after her brother’s disappearance and accusation of treason by Icarii authorities. Despite being under the thumb of Souji val Akira, Lucinia manages to keep her nose clean…that is until an Aster revolutionary shows up with news about her brother’s fate, and an opportunity to join the fight.

This captivating, spellbinding second installment to The First Sister series picks up right where The First Sister left off and is a must-read for science fiction fans everywhere

Having read The First Sister last year, I thought my memory would still be fresh enough to at least remember all the biggest story beats and plot twists from that book. However, as soon as I started The Second Rebel I realized just how much I had forgotten and how confusing certain terms and even character names are. I read some reviews to remind me of the characters and plot but I want you to know that this review might look very different had I read both books back to back.

So to recap here as well (I may need my own review as a memory crutch when I pick up the third book, after all), in this universe, there are three major opposing factions. The Icarii, who are all about tech and gene-assisting their bodies to perfection and who also train pairs of duelists that are connected via neural implant. These implants can also regulate their emotions, hormones, etc. The Icarii live on Mercury and Venus.
Then there are the Gaeans (on Earth, Mars, and more recently Ceres) who are much more tech-averse than the Icarii and who are run by a religious order whose head is the Agora. The Sisters of this order have their ability to speak removed and serve as comfort women (read: prostitutes) and confessionals on space ships. In the first book we learned that their voices are taken away via neural implant and could technically be restored, as happened for Astrid, current First Sister of Ceres with ambitions to become the next Mother and change the entire system from within. How exactly this all works politically, I’m not sure.
Thirdly, the faction we as readers sympathise with the most, are the Asters. These people have been created by genetic experimentation and are treated like non-humans by both Icarii and Gaeans. Val Akira labs is using Asters for their experiments, testing geneassists on them, leaving them dead or broken and not much caring either way. So yeah, we’re rooting for the Asters!
What’s new in this volume are the Synthetics, and I’m not sure if they were added just now or if I just missed a mention of them in the first book. Either way, these are A.I.s who left our solar system a long time ago and who also make sure humans don’t travel past a certain point (mostly because we can’t behave and insist on killing each other through war after war…).

The Second Rebel also adds a new POV protagonist. There’s still Astrid, who is trying to navigate the crazy (and of course corrupt) politics of the Sisterhood and has to scheme her way to becoming the next Mother without losing sight of the people she’s trying to save. There’s Lito, whose plan is breaking out his partner Ofiera’s Aster husband from the facility where he is being held. We still follow Hiro (in Saito Ren’s body) who goes to Autarkeia to investigate a Synthetic. And now we also meet Lito’s sister Luce, who joins the Aster rebels and becomes a sort of spy.

As if there weren’t already enough plot lines to keep straight, cities and planets and terms to keep apart, Linden A. Lewis’ naming conventions make everything even more confusing.
Luce’s full name is Lucinia sol Lucius… you’d think a family whose surname is sol Lucius would come up with a given name for their daughter that sounds at least a little different. Don’t get me wrong, I think Lucinia and the nickname Luce are very pretty names, it’s just more challenging to keep things apart while reading.
Lito and Hiro are also pretty similar looking names and I was very glad that the audiobook narrators have such different voices. But even so, it sometimes took me a few seconds to realize whose chapter I was currently in. That may well be my own shortcoming. I have a lot going on in my life and my concentration wasn’t always the best while reading this book.

Plot-wise, this was so cool! Things are always moving forward, there are big battles and smaller battles, new revelations, complex politics, finally some (small) answers to burning questions I’ve had since the first book, and even some beautiful relationship developments – not necessarily romantic, mind you – between characters. All of that made listening to this book something I looked forward to every night. I do think juggling four separate story lines was maybe a bit too much because each of them could have used just a bit more backstory, more fleshed-out characters, more detailed world building. But my overall impression was still very good and I definitely can’t remember a single boring chapter in this book.

This being the middle book of a trilogy, I had hoped to learn more about the world that has already been set up. Like how exactly does the Sisterhood work, how did the Icarii hierarchy and its naming conventions come to be (sol vs. val), what do the planets and cities look like, what exactly is Astrid’s motivation other than “doing the right thing”? We get tidbits about all of these but I never felt like any aspect of this world was satisfactorily explained. It is of course possible that I was an inattentive listener, but I don’t have similar problems with other books, so I think The Second Rebel gave me too many things to juggle in my mind at the same time and therefore didn’t have any time left to flesh out the world and make it feel alive.

My feelings about this book are so strange, because on the one hand, it has all those problems I mentioned above. Like the feeling that none of the characters existed before this story started, like they don’t have a proper backstory or lives that were disrupted by the events of The First Sister. But then again, in the story that is happening during the book, they do feel like real people and I cared about all of them.
I also really loved the plot and the world building, confusing as it is. In terms of ambition, Lewis may have bitten off more than she can chew, but I can’t deny that I had a blast reading this. Sure, I was confused about the setting and characters at the beginning of many chapters, but that didn’t change the fact that the whole spy stuff, the battles, the heisty bits, and the political scheming weren’t exciting.

I also still adore the themes and ideas Lewis is exploring. Gender, identity, a sense of purpose, family ties, betrayal, honor, and corruption are just a few of them. Some are done better than others, sure, but whichever topic came up, it got me to think about things I wouldn’t in an older sci-fi novel (looking at you, Foundation Trilogy). Even if it feels rushed at times, the book offers a lot of food for thought and especially in Astrid’s storyline, it doesn’t simply tell you what’s wrong or right – it lets you make up your own mind and sometimes, that’s really not an easy distinction to make.

I think with some editing and maybe an additional 50 pages or so, this could have been an excellent book. I still loved it because the whole idea is just my jam and I like the way Lewis reveals twists at the end, but I also know, deep down inside, that the book is far from perfect. Will I still read the third one? Of course I will, I’d pick it up right now if I could! Does it go on my award-worthy list? Probably not so much.

MY RATING: 6.75/10 – Pretty good

5 thoughts on “Confusing But Still Good: Linden A. Lewis – The Second Rebel

  1. Jenny @ Reading the End says:

    This series sounds interesting! but yeah, at over 500 pages, I think it would have to be award-worthy for me to pick it up. 😛 I’ve gotten so picky about chunksters during pandemic!

    (Also, have I told you about my theory that all subsequent books in a series should contain a quick recap of what you need to remember from the prior book? It’s such a good idea. Everyone should do it.)

    Liked by 1 person

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