F I N A L R A T I N G
A visual representation of me trying to figure out how to write this review:
In all seriousness, this might be one of the most difficult books I’ve had to review, simply because I have so many thoughts. So many different aspects to a novel as complicated and nuanced as this one, and so many thoughts about several of these aspects. More than this, perhaps – the reason why reviewing this book is so difficult is because I can fully see the invaluable benefits of it, as well as the potential harm it can cause, and the intersection of both can be difficult for a reviewer (who isn’t, by any means, claiming to be an expert) to encompass and do justice. But, I will try my best here, and if I start to ramble, resulting in a post that resembles word-vomit more than a structured review- well, you’ll have to forgive me here, I guess.
27 Hours is a futuristic (set, I believe, 150-200 years from present day), science-fiction, action-packed tale which counts down from 27 hours to certain war. When the clock hits 0, prompting the sun to come up, our characters’ world is going to be torn apart by the two species fighting on (over?) it. A couple hundred or so years ago, humans arrived at a moon from all over the Earth, giving rise to a civilization, unaware that an indigenous species was asleep underground. When the construction of a lake causes several underground tunnels to flood, the indigenous species (referred to as chimera, or “gargoyle” as a slur) lost many lives. Ever since, war has raged on. The humans consider the chimera blood-thirsty monsters, while the chimera are staunch in their belief that the land is theirs. A third group emerged some time during the war – a forest civilization – that broke away from the humans, formed an alliance with some chimera, and strive for peace.
Perhaps it’s my own background and cultural history, but I couldn’t fully root for any of the main characters, all of whom are human.
I was born and raised in Pakistan, a country that emerged in 1947 from India after a brutal war raged on, killing millions upon millions of people; much of that bloodshed, the consequent splitting, and the after-effects that exist even now were a direct product of the British colonization of the Indian subcontinent. We are still told horror stories, of piles of bodies at the border – riots, massacres, friends and families torn apart for the rest of time, as my ancestors, as my neighbors’ ancestors fought for their rights on a land that belonged to them. It was our land. It was our country, not some colonizers’. They had no right to be there.
It’s not an issue that raged just then – it’s an issue extremely current and relevant even now, whether we’re talking about the war over Kashmir (again, a direct product of British imperialism), or the Israel-Palestine situation that seems to have no end in sight. Maybe it’s my hypersensitivity to issues of indigenous peoples’ having their lands stolen by invaders who have no right to be there, but I found it almost impossible to sympathize with the main characters. When I realized that the theme of the novel was an indigenous species versus colonists, and the main characters all being colonists or descendants of colonists, I was immediately put off.
Let me get something straight here: Wright does not excuse colonists’ actions, nor does she pass off the war as a binary issue. What does, however, happen is that all the characters who get perspective chapters are humans (in this case, colonists), and three out of four of the perspective chapters are humans who are learning to rid themselves of long-held prejudices against chimera, while the fourth perspective character is a forest-human who doesn’t have these prejudices anymore, who instead strives for peace. The issue here, at least for me, was glaringly obvious: in a war raging between an indigenous species and colonists, why is the colonist’s perspective centered? Why is the storyline so intensely focused on colonist guilt, and realizing that indigenous life that existed on this planet is still, you know, life? And despite them unlearning their prejudices against the species itself, the issue of invasion and settling is almost entirely ignored, while all the weight is put on violent warfare.
To me, it parallels a book where white characters realize that people of color are “humans as well,” and start working towards co-existence, while also refusing to (intentionally or unintentionally) acknowledge or dismantle the root cause of the issue: systematic, institutionalized racism and white supremacy. In this case, the human characters’ narrative is the only one being centered, while the root issue of invasion, trespassing and unethically settling over land that already belongs to beings living on the moon is thrust aside, instead focusing on the byproduct of this main issue: war. There was a moment in this novel where the villain (so often described as the monster who needs to be destroyed for peace to finally be achieved) says:
“Humans are a parasite, and you’re destroying this land with your mining and your colonization. You came and took with no regard to the life already existing here and, according to your histories, that’s fairly standard for your species, isn’t it?”
This tells me that Wright is fully aware of the complicated issue at hand, yet the villain – hell-bent on destruction and blood and chaos – is the only one who brings it up. Bro, if I’m twenty pages from the end and I’m siding with the villain here? That’s not a good look.
Some of the thematic choices made regarding character prejudices were also… uncomfortable for me to read and consider.
27 Hours is a book full of underrepresented identities on the page, with beautiful relationships forming – both platonic and romantic. We have a truly diverse cast of characters. Our four perspective chapters are Rumor, Nyx, Braeden and Jude, while a fifth character can still be considered a main character, despite not getting a perspective chapter. Rumor is a bisexual, multiracial Nigerian/Portuguese & Indian who falls for Jude, who is gay. Nyx is Deaf, pansexual, chubby, signs ASL throughout the book, has Cuban ancestry, and is love with her best friend, Dahlia, who is an Afro-Latinx trans girl. Nyx’s abuela is also Deaf. Braeden is asexual, and has two moms. Jude is adopted by a family of two brothers – both are people of color, both are queer. There is an Asian side character who uses they/them pronouns, and there is discussion about using and normalizing pronoun introductions.
Rumor and Jude form a beautiful bond immediately, and their interactions are lovely to see unfold on the page. Dahlia and Nyx’s complicated romantic relationship is slow-burn, and the pay-off is ultimately swoon-worthy, for lack of a better phrase. Braeden discusses his asexuality often, there is sign language throughout the book – so these identities are given proper time and weight. But with three of your five protagonists being people of color, there is no discussion about race, but I’ll get to this later.
In line with the imperialist discussion I was having above, let’s talk a little bit about Rumor. I believe Rumor could be considered the driving force of the novel – his perspective chapter starts the novel off, and his actions and reactions are, for the most part, what drive the story. For me, when it was revealed that he has Nigerian and Indian ancestry, I was immediately intrigued. Why? Because for a story dealing with colonial issues, a main character having ancestry from both Nigeria and India – both countries that have been colonized by the British in the past? That seemed significant to me. But I was… disturbed (if that’s the right phrase) by the fact that Rumor, more than anyone else, holds the most vicious hatred for chimera.
Rumor’s past with the indigenous species is bloody; his mother and his father both died during the war, and the book quite literally begins with his colony being wiped out by an attack. So, his reactions are to be expected, but… I’m a little uncomfortable that a character who has ancestry tracing back to countries that were torn apart due to colonization is so staunchly pro-colonist, is so staunchly vicious in his hatred of chimera. That’s a strange thematic choice for me. And it gets especially strange (this is a euphemism for problematic, by the way) that the two people who, arguably, have the most sway over changing his prejudices are white. The two characters (Jude and Braeden) who basically show the boy, who has ancestry 🗣 tracing 🗣 back 🗣 to 🗣 countries 🗣 that 🗣 have 🗣 been 🗣 colonized 🗣 by white 🗣 people, that his prejudices are unfounded, unfair and discriminatory are white. Bro. White.
“Aimal, you’re overthinking this. It probably wasn’t that serious, it probably isn’t that deep.” Is that what you’re thinking? I’ve already acknowledged that perhaps it’s because I’m hypersensitive to imperialist issues, I saw flaws in this novel that many others would have overlooked. But come on – even the most non-interested of you couldn’t say that it isn’t a big deal that the most racist (specie-ist) person from our cast of characters is a person of color, and that the people who changed his mind were white people. Like… that’s just… 🏃🏽♀️ Moving on.
You could argue that Rumor’s ancestry isn’t as significant as I’m making it out to be, mainly because Wright makes it clear that the humans have one language (referred to as “the human language”), and don’t retain much from their culture back from home. Which: if the book is set 150-200 years in the future (which is 7-8 generations at most), would people who immigrated from all over the world really have forgotten their language, their cultures? Here’s a passage from the book:
“My mom was Indian. Like India. My dad was… He was Portugese and Nigerian. I only know because we had a school project to see what, if anything, we’d kept from our Earth ancestors.”
This seems to imply that the humans don’t know much, if anything at all, about where they came from on Earth. And that’s fair, if the book was set even further into the future. Would entire cultures cease to exist in just a few generations? (More on this later, too). And even if they did, why does the book seem to imply that they gradually, over the course of a century, defaulted to a Westernized way of living? Where romantic, familial and platonic relationships are modeled after Western culture? This is vague, and this is where the holes in world-building start to seep through. Are there no other cultures? And if there aren’t, how did the near-7,000 languages that exist in the world right now get wiped out in just a century or two from now?! How did entire civilizations coming from all over the world forget their own cultures to default to the present “human culture?” How is there no variation past ideological thought (and even then, only as it relates to war versus peace)? And if there are cultures, why not show them? I’m so confused about this – there are so many gaps and holes in world-building here that it’s driving me up the wall just thinking about the lack of information there is to grapple with.
Is racial representation really REPRESENTATION if the characters of color can be replaced by white people without changing anything else at all?
The overwhelming response to this question, when I asked it on Twitter, was “no.” One person writes, “Nope. White culture and ____ POC culture is nowhere near the same, and the culture needs to be included for it to be representation.”
Another person writes, “Not even close. PoC and white people have vastly different experiences, so it’s not really representation if this isn’t shown. And if POC and white people do go through the world in the same way (maybe if race isn’t a barrier) you have to have a WHY and HOW.”
Yet another person writes, “Part of the human experience is that people treat you based on a lot of shallow things, and taking away micro aggressions seems unrealistic.”
And another person writes… “Nope. If they can be replaced, then they’re just in a diverse costume. We have different experiences, and even in the future, that will be so.”
Basically, every single character of color in this book could be replaced with a white character, and nothing would change. Absolutely nothing, apart from a couple words here and there (and a large chunk of my review *badum tss*). Like I said, there is little to no significant mention of differing cultures, or different languages (the only non-English words in the book are “chai,” “prem,” and “abuela,” which just… make up your mind. Do languages exist, or do they not?) Fine, take away cultures, take away languages, but even people of color who live in diasporas, who have largely assimilated to the society around them and retain little to nothing of their ancestral culture still undergo micro aggressions, if not outright racism. And there is no mention of it. Anywhere. When I say that the characters of color could be replaced by white characters and nothing would change, I mean that quite literally. You’d just have to replace every time the color “brown” is mentioned with white, change the ethnicities, and… that’s it.
Apparently, in this society, people aren’t prejudiced based on race, because it’s of no consequence to anybody, so it doesn’t exist anymore, despite there being a very clear prejudice against the. indigenous. species. So, prejudice does exist – just not intra-human racism. Which, just…
Racism has existed for centuries. It has been the cause of genocide in various parts of the world, wars, slavery, systematic and institutionalized oppression. Look at the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar right now, the refugee crisis and the fear-mongering against Middle Easterners and Muslims, the legal and violent war underway against black Americans in the U.S., the purging of Native American lands and rights in today’s society, the discriminatory rhetoric against Mexicans that won someone the election. Look at our fucking President. Look at the Ku Klux Klan, the neo-Nazis taking off their robes and parading around in the streets with torches and tell me racism is going anywhere. It has always existed, because as a human race, we’re prejudiced people. You mean to tell me that a colony, that exists and is an amalgamation of human society from cultures all over the world, has no racism?! Especially if this colony isn’t even that far into the future?! I…
The only way this could be even slightly possible would be if a scientific device existed that purged the very idea of prejudice out of your mind. I would buy this if prejudice, in and of itself, didn’t exist in the society. But prejudice does exist! Against the indigenous species! So that takes that out of the equation.
It feels a lot, and I mean A LOT, like erasure of the struggles people of color go through every single day, and have gone through every single day. For a white author to build a world where (1) colonialism thrives, but (2) racism no longer exists? It feels like a cop-out. It feels like Wright wanted people to say that people of color exist in her book, but didn’t want to do the heavy-lifting of representing the lives of people of color. So with the complete lack of representation of non-white culture, and the insinuation that racism no longer exists, while every other identity is given the proper balance and proper weight? Just… *endless sigh* I’m sorry. It’s lazy. It’s lazy writing, to me. It’s lazy world-building, it’s a lack of understanding of racial issues, both historical and contemporary, and it feels like simply checking off checklist items rather than actual representation.
I am not going to deny that this book has so much potential to benefit so many people, but it also participates in erasure, as well as a base misunderstanding of imperialist issues.
Which is exactly why it was so difficult for me to review this book. It is a diverse book and offers on-the-page representation for trans, gender non-conforming, asexual, pansexual, gay, bisexual, lesbian, and Deaf representation. And not even just that – it’s still a decent book with constant action, well-developed characters, an interesting (albeit under-developed or vague) world, and engaging dialogue. But it still falls flat in so many areas. And I hope that me pointing the things out that made me uncomfortable, that left a bad taste in my mouth doesn’t seem to you that I’m negating all the good this book can do in so many young people’s lives. I hope that if this review does anything, it at least sheds some light on the issues in the book, and maybe the issues will be rectified or redeemed in the sequel(s).
And with that ~3,000 word review…
Gore, violence, anti-indigenous rhetoric, colonialism/imperialist thought.
27 Hours releases on October 3rd, 2017.