Thank you to NetGalley and Harper Voyager for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. Escaping Exodus debuts October 15th.
The seemingly acid trip-inspired cover of Escaping Exodus does the words inside justice: this book is unabashedly weird.
Drayden chronicles a matriarchal society that has made the innards of a gargantuan, living space beast their home; when one space beast is on the way out health-wise, they literally jump ship (har har) to the next one in the herd. It’s mad, it’s trippy, it’s body horror at times, and it’s the kind of book you really need to experience for yourself.
I inch closer to the pond of cool, debris-ridden slime that rims the sphincter. It pulses, back and forth, back and forth, a putrid-looking pucker of flesh. Adalla sticks both of her hands in the hole and pulls hard, her muscles rippling and bulging. The rim tries to hold tight, even looks like it’s tugging against her, but eventually it gives, and the hole widens just enough for a person to slip through.
And is the book YA? The main characters are certainly the proper age, but I’d say not really; it doesn’t have the tone you’d expect, which I chalk up to the MCs living in such an alien society and feeling so young and brash that they’re completely unrelatable. There were times I had a really hard time buying the decisions of the MCs; for people living in a society that faces the constant threat of extinction, they have no issues throwing caution to the wind at every opportunity.
The pacing of the book was also strange, to say the least. From start to finish action is stuffed together in a kind of madcap jumble, but then threads of story seem to wither away into nothingness, never to be picked up again. I think the blurb for the book is kind of telling: one big infodump followed by the most blah of final hooks:
And of course there wouldn’t be much of a story if things didn’t go terribly, terribly wrong.
Notice how unspecific that is? There’s too much going on in this book to condense the plot into “If X character doesn’t do Y near-impossible thing, then Z terrible consequence will happen!” We’ve got a lesbian princess and subject forbidden love affair, an underclass uprising, people communicating in code by making out, sex with baby space beasts, an obtuse matriarchal and polyamorous family system with like eight moms and a couple dads per child, court intrigue, clone rights, inter-space beast communications, forgotten histories… I could continue if needed. As per usual, the social justice themes were a turn-off for me, but even that kind of got drowned out by all the crazy, constant details. And yet, for a book with so much detailed worldbuilding, I somehow found it hard to picture exactly what was going on in a lot of scenes, I think because the whole book takes an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach.
Basically, Escaping Exodus felt far too ambitious; I would have liked to see more nuance. Nevertheless, many scenes were absolutely riveting, and some bits have really stuck with me. (I read this book back in July.) It’s obvious that this author has tons of potential, so I’m definitely up for reading more of her work.