2.5 star, YA

Review: Steelstriker by Marie Lu

Explosive action and swoon-worthy suspense collide in this riveting conclusion to the Skyhunter duet from #1 New York Times–bestselling author Marie Lu

As a Striker, Talin was taught loyalty is life. Loyalty to the Shield who watches your back, to the Strikers who risk their lives on the battlefield, and most of all, to Mara, which was once the last nation free from the Karensa Federation’s tyranny.

But Mara has fallen. And its destruction has unleashed Talin’s worst nightmare.

With her friends scattered by combat and her mother held captive by the Premier, Talin is forced to betray her fellow Strikers and her adopted homeland. She has no choice but to become the Federation’s most deadly war machine as their newest Skyhunter.

Red is no stranger to the cruelty of the Federation or the torture within its Skyhunter labs, but he knows this isn’t the end for Mara – or Talin. The link between them may be weak, but it could be Talin and Red’s only hope to salvage their past and safeguard their future.

While the fate of a broken world hangs in the balance, Talin and Red must reunite the Strikers and find their way back to each other in this smoldering sequel to Marie Lu’s Skyhunter.

That’s the thing about evil. You don’t need to be it to do it. It doesn’t have to consume all of you. It can be small. All you have to do is let it exist.

The grand conclusion to this latest duology by Marie Lu, back in dystopian fiction which was the genre that propelled her to fame, I kind of expected more from Steelstriker. Obviously the ending of book 1 left a lot hanging in the air. Yet it doesn’t move forward at a very fast pace, a characteristic I noticed even in Skyhunter.

We’ve been introduced to the Big Bad of the story, Premier Constantine, previously. Now we’re up close and personal with him as Talin has to deal with his every whim. He’s evil, let’s be clear on that, but I do love how Marie doesn’t make him so black and white for a villain. He’s covered in shades of grey for we start understanding his fears and mind more while unearthing the past that perhaps made him into the ruthless dictator he is.

Yet the plot moves so slowly. While Talin spends most of the book figuring out how to escape the Premier so she can thwart his plans for one United federation, Red and the other Strikers are on the run, making small attempts where they can to stop Constantine. It’s lots of planning, minor action, and minimal world building.

Yes, I felt there was a missed chance to have explored more about the different countries that were once independent and now forced into the federation. Talin and friends are no longer stuck in their own country because now it’s been claimed by this regime and they’ve been forced to go to the capital. But I still have no idea what these other places are or even the relevance of half these countries listed on the map since they’re hardly or never mentioned at all.

I also didn’t feel much for the romance. This is probably my fault for having read book 1 so long ago. It was such a slow burn romance where all the chemistry and tension were set up there, leaving only the aftermath and response in book 2. Since I barely remember those moments, it’s kind of hard to feel the same sense of elation at actual romance budding between Red and Talin now. I mean, they didn’t even kiss in the first book so this should be a win in my books but I felt almost nothing. Ah, I wish I could push out feelings with a button but alas that wouldn’t be very organic.

Not wanting to end off with so much negativity, I did really appreciate one thing: found family matters, especially in a world torn up by war. With so many families broken apart and even witnessing fellow comrade deaths, the ties that bring those who remain together are even more important. I loved the Strikers from day 1, this band of elite fighters who were brave and disciplined when it came to protecting those they loved against the monsters from the federation. I’m so glad some of my favorite secondary characters were back and being their lovable, courageous selves.

Marie writes this at least very well, and sums it up even better in her own words.

Goodness is friends who stick by you, even when they fear you’re lost. It’s mothers who fight for their daughters. It’s believing in something better – and taking action to make it reality. It’s love, untainted and pure.

Goodness is a garden that provides life to thousands of blooms. It does not rule. It gives.

Overall Recommendation:

Steelstriker fell a little flat when it came to pacing for what I had hoped would be an epic conclusion. Now facing the evil ruler of the federation that had destroyed their home country, Talin and her friends are separated and still trying to fight the good fight against the greatest odds stacked against them. I had hoped for more action and less internal thinking/planning so it was hard not to put it down a lot. While there were certain memorable moments, I can’t say this is among the best dystopian books I’ve read.

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