105 – Inheritance by Malinda Lo

Inheritance by Malinda Lo The triangular spaceship hovered motionless in the sky above Reese Holloway’s house, as inscrutable as a black hole. It had seemed like a good idea when they were inside: to tell the truth about what happened to them at Area 51. It didn’t seem like such a good idea now.

Reese and David are not normal teens — not since they were adapted with alien DNA by the Imria, an extraterrestrial race that has been secretly visiting Earth for decades. Now everyone is trying to get to them: the government, the Imria, and a mysterious corporation that would do anything for the upper hand against the aliens.

Beyond the web of conspiracies, Reese can’t reconcile her love for David with her feelings for her ex-girlfriend Amber, an Imrian. But her choice between two worlds will play a critical role in determining the future of humanity, the Imria’s place in it, and the inheritance she and David will bring to the universe.

In this gripping sequel to Adaptation, Malinda Lo brings a thoughtful exploration of adolescence, sexuality, and “the other” to a science fiction thriller that is impossible to put down.
Ugh I have such mixed feelings about Inheritance, you guys. I enjoyed a lot of things about it. It was definitely a step up from Adaptation, having fixed the weird tonal issues and dispensed with the mystery bits that made that book kinda tedious. I really liked it as a non-sensationalized “invasion” story, where things between the humans and aliens are settled in a more diplomatic manner and nobody’s shooting anyone else with nukes or ray guns or infecting one another with computer viruses. I even liked the resolution to the love triangle, that was really nice and unexpected and very needed in YA.

But holy fuck dat writing. Dat writing is really hard to contend with. Like wow.

But good stuff first.

I mentioned in my review of Adaptation that it was only at the very end that that book became interesting again to me, when the aliens have revealed themselves to the world, and protagonists/human-alien hybrids Reese and David are about to have a press conference explaining all of the shady government shit they’ve been through. The public aspect is what’s intriguing to me, as far as how we might adjust to these things on a cultural level, so I love it when books take on the pretty major task of hypothesizing this process as it happens, ESPECIALLY if they don’t resort to a simplified good vs. evil scenario.

So, I liked that Inheritance is not an action-heavy pew-pew sci-fi epic, or even a conspiracy thriller the way Adaptation was, occasionally. It’s very…life-heavy, character-heavy, relationship-heavy, and that was fine with me. There’s still an underlying conspiracy plotline to provide some menace and set up what feels like a very obligatory action-based climax, but the interesting part of the book, for me, was seeing the…the decompression. The aftermath of Adaptation.

I feel like lots of books don’t engage with that part? Like you read about the adventure, the climactic battle, the YAY we win, and then the book ends, and we don’t actually get a good look at the process by which the world settles in to a new status quo. And while I guess Inheritance would still technically be part of the “adventure”, it feels different. The game has changed.

Now Reese and David know what’s happened to them, the world knows aliens exist, everyone knows who and what Reese and David are, and Inheritance is about how that exposure changes the lives that they had before. So like, they go back to school, but there are protesters all outside the building. They have to deal with constant media presence, paparazzi, strangers having opinions about their personal lives. They have to deal with the government trying to cover its ass in a less kidnappy way, taking them on in the court of public opinion. But most interestingly, Reese and David and the whole world have to deal with the Imria, who’ve done incredibly presumptuous things, but want to take responsibility for them.

Basically, I like that the conflict is on a different front. I like that it’s about media relations and diplomacy and spreading the truth. I like that the aliens have to set up a press conference to explain themselves, and that the characters’ big world-affecting hero moment is not, like, when they beat up the bad guy, but when they convince the patronizing Imrian leader to see humanity as an equal.

There’s a great moment where Reese just sort of realizes that regardless of what she wanted to do before her adaptation, her path in life is basically laid out for her now because of what she is. The implication is that her career won’t ever not involve her role as a bridge between the Imria and humanity, and even though she didn’t know what she wanted to do before, the choice isn’t really available anymore. Things have changed.

It’s not a particularly dramatic realization. Reese doesn’t angst about it, but she’s not especially excited about it, either, it’s just her life now. I liked that. It was a level-headed moment that felt emblematic of the way that Inheritance ties this fantastical situation into the mundane realities of life.

So yeah, I’ve seen complaints about how meandering the book seemed, but I didn’t have a problem with that. I actually enjoyed dipping in to an almost slice-of-life story about teenage alien-human hybrids during First Contact, I am totally curious about what the world would look like from their point of view.

That being said, while the world-building was the most captivating part for me, it’s not necessarily the focus, so let me not give that impression. This book is 85% Reese sorting out her personal confusion in literally every aspect of her life, so depending on how you feel about her, that’s a huuuuge plus or minus. I was kinda meh on Reese as a character. She wasn’t infuriating or obnoxious, but I didn’t quite connect, either. That being said, A fucking PLUS on how the love triangle was handled and resolved, petition for more authors to approach theirs similarly. DO THAT MORE All of those nice things being said, oh my god the writing almost completely killed this book for me. The first half, maybe two-thirds, were painful. While the tone/focus problems I had with Adaptation were more of less hammered out, the actual writing issues were completely unchanged. It’s all telling, all the time, and the dialogue often feels like it’s been directly lifted from some tone-deaf after-school special. It’s sparse and clunky and un-atmospheric and just so much harder for me to get lost in than I want it to be.

Also, the ending, holy shit you guys. I mentioned earlier that the actiony climax felt totally obligatory and I meant it. The conflict is set up, but the actual act that kicks it off comes out of nowhere, and the whole thing lasts like two or three chapters before it’s completely over and done with. It’s not even that important to the plot. I mean, it is kind of, in that it provides an opportunity for the love triangle and the conspiracy subplot to be resolved, but the conspiracy subplot itself doesn’t feel that important to the plot, and though the in-world impact is pretty major, all of the fallout is summarized for us in a couple of short news articles and one final chapter that feels more like an epilogue than an actual ending.

Plus, although it didn’t exactly fall into that good/evil binary that I mentioned earlier, the resolution to the Imria/humanity conflict did seem somewhat oversimplified to me. I mean, there’s a lot of hairy, complicated stuff here, like, the characters are dealing with huge origin of the human race revelations, and we’ve got some very clear parallels being drawn between the Imria’s interference and real-world colonization/the assimilation of cultural identity, and how do you even begin to grapple with the enormity of those things, in-world and allegorically? Then the heroes are just like “Hey, have you ever considered telling the truth and then not assimilating us?” IT'S JUST THAT EASY It’s a tough spot, right, because you have the Imria with their patronizing white Alien Guilt on the one side and the American government/elite corporate conspiracy on the other and neither of these things are great, but they’re in opposition, so who do you villainize more? Still, I really wish the wrap-up had been more nuanced – harder on the Imria, more in-depth on the earth-shaking existential crisis that their revelation had to have left the world in, and on the political fallout from the collapse of the American presidential administration.

It was an abrupt switch, because I’m loving the parts of the book that are exploring the street-level aftermath of this huge ALIENS revelation, and then it just ends, right after dropping a series of society-altering knowledge bombs! I want the aftermath to the aftermath, man! Way to leave me hanging. BUT that’s not necessarily what Inheritance was meant to be about, so, you know, what can you do?

TL;DR VERSION: Inheritance basically broke even for me. I really got into it about halfway through, there were ideas and things I really liked about it, and obviously I appreciate its diverse cast and progressive attitude, but more than any other Lo book I’ve read so far, the writing was very nearly a dealbreaker. The characters felt flat, the clunky tackling of social issues made me cringe, and the abrupt ending pretty effectively managed to harsh my buzz for the things I actually did like.

three stars


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