Overall rating: 3/5
Genre: Science-fiction, Dystopian
Read if you loved: American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole, Stranger Things
Content warnings: Antisemitism, racism, torture
Billy Jakobek has lived his life as an experiment. Born with abilities to absorb the emotions and memories of everyone around him, he is keenly acquainted with the horrors of the world – many that are simply exaggerations of what exists around us today. While subservient to his captors, his life takes a sharp turn when he meets Natalia Gonzalez, a spunky teenager with her own dark past. Alone and misunderstood, they not only find solace in each other’s company, but their connection ignites a passion to instigate change. Bold and ambitious, Knight in Paper Armor is a valiant effort to dissect burgeoning societal horrors through the lens of compelling characters and intriguing storylines, but the busy plot and off-kilter progression of events served more to distract than engage.
The book’s synopsis really caught my eye: a Jewish boy and a Guatemalan girl living in a dystopian version of America that hits too close to home. When it comes to examining these specific characters in terms of the complex dynamics that make up their painful histories – Conley knocks it out of the park. His passion reads clearly in his words, and I fell in love with both protagonists right off the bat. Beyond the main duo, there are several side characters that are just as interesting. Not only is their characterization nuanced, but readers also experience this novel through their limited third person perspectives as well – more impressively, their voices are entirely unique, making it easy to slip into each person’s mind. The novel is sectioned into short chapters, and the fast-paced plot in addition to quick switches in POV make for a quick read.
I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of this book – I felt as though the character introductions and overall plot set-up was well developed. However, the second-half is where I started to disengage. It was difficult to keep track of the timeline and I was confused with some of the character relationships and the changes they experienced. There was also a point when it felt as though every single modern day issue was suddenly being packed into the storyline with little to no exploration. It got busy and distracting, and I would have preferred to remain focused on some of the key issues that I thought were beautifully unpacked earlier on in the novel. It also became progressively cheesier and more dramatic, which felt disingenuous given the raw and dark beginning.
I would recommend this book because of how different it is to anything I have read recently – particularly if you enjoy sci-fi and dystopian fiction. While the execution at all points was not perfect, the content and stories are worth reading. The author warned me that this isn’t your escapist read, and he is right about that, but the lack of conversation around some of the topics makes it even more critical to explore literature such as this. Thank you again to Nicholas Conley for providing me with a copy of Knight in Paper Armor in exchange for an honest review!