Lilith Saintcrow’s “She Wolf and Cub” succeeds in so many ways where other dystopian worlds before have failed. Dystopian futures are not generally the most unique of settings. It’s been done before, but perhaps because Saintcrow is so willing to push the limits it has never been done quite like this.
Saintcrow poses the question on her website: “Have you ever said to yourself, ‘Self, where are all the cyborg assassin Westerns, because I really want to read one?’”
She responded by writing one herself. Answering a need most of us didn’t even know we wanted.
What is perhaps the most interesting part of Saintcrow’s finished product is the unsettling nature of her dystopian future. Her setting provides a place where being less-than-human feels very attainable. Yet, the western feel — as she puts it — seems to pull readers into a past we are familiar with through history. It makes her world more believable than other dystopian futures that have used a similar premise.
For example the series, “Ghost in the Shell,” has characters similar to Saintcrow’s characters — less human and more cybernetic. Unlike “Ghost in the Shell,” however, we are not surrounded by a fantasy world filled by futuristic buildings and technology, but a very dark world where only the richest or most desperate can in fact receive these bodies.
Our main character was said to once be a member of the latter. She can barely be categorized as really human anymore and is even more disassociated from what we consider being human, as she is not even given a solid name. She goes mostly by names given to her by others and even assigns names to others.
When we are approached with a character without a name, it really makes us realize how much importance we tie to our own.
For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to her by the name she introduces herself as, Abby.
Being of the more desperate group, Abby’s life is not her own (although as the series progresses it feels like most individuals serve someone's purpose). Nonetheless, she has one rule. If she is sent to kill, the victim will not be a child. Her rule for most of her life seems to be followed until the day it isn’t.
When given her orders, she immediately refuses until told that doing so will ensure her dismissal which seems to be the equivalent to death. While accepting the mission initially after the threat we are given the sense of a weight on her shoulders. She has made a decision. Just not one the audience is told. We are introduced to a child named Geoffrey, a strange kid who doesn’t seem to fit in.
When she kills the guards holding him, her decision becomes apparent as soon as the child seems to accept his fate. She tells him her name is Abby (one she hasn’t gone by in a while) and takes him. The rest of the book is a rollercoaster of emotions, action and a fair amount of gore as she flees with the kid in toe as they are violently pursued.
Perhaps the most impactful scene for me is one that sums up my take on the story.
As they are on the run, Geoffrey uses the term, mom, questioningly, and she retorts she is not the maternal type. Her quick dismissal is answered just as fast as Geoffrey says it’s okay as he is “not a real kid.”
Her answer holds the weight of her entire decision in only a few sentences.
“‘Yes, you are.’ I had to work to make the words audible. There was an obstruction in my throat, even though all my automatics are flatline. ‘Your my kid now. Better be quiet and rest.’”
From there, the two’s relationship is decided by our main character. We see an interesting progression of trust from Geoffrey as he goes from calling her Abby to Abbymom and then eventually just mom. The two make an interesting pair to follow, as we see the world through the cyborg, Abby’s, eyes and eventually piece together the mystery surrounding Geoffrey that is so strange I could never explain it as well as the book does.
Unlike other books I have reviewed, this one does not have a diverse quirky cast, and aside from bringing in one other main character (who I won’t spoil for potential readers) the book very much keeps the narrative on Abby and Geoffrey.
I find this choice to be a good one, as neither can afford to stay in one place for long and thus the evolution of side characters would take away from the desperate situation the two are in.
Without spoiling to much, the climax is intense and the ending is so perfect that this could either succeed as a stand-alone novel or evolve into a series. Either way, I look forward to the next time Saintcrow decides to take on a strange premise and run with it.
Nichole Harwood is the culture editor for the Daily Lobo. She primarily covers alumni and art features. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Nolidoli1.