LitStack Review: The Rise of Io by Wesley Chu
The Rise of Io
Release Date: October 4, 2016
Have you ever been away from something for a while – a favorite restaurant, a fun vacation spot, a go-to shopping center – and returned to find the same old place, but updated, revitalized, fun to get to know all over again? The Rise of Io is that, in the best possible way.
In 2013, Wesley Chu burst on the contemporary fantasy scene with his debut novel, The Lives of Tao. It was followed in the next two years with The Deaths of Tao and The Rebirths of Tao, all of which were set in our world and our age, but with a fascinating twist: 65 million years ago, an alien spaceship crash-landed on a primitive Earth, and since then its survivors have been manipulating the evolution of the planet in order to reach a point where they can find the means to return to their home world.
These creatures, the Quasing, are unable to exist in our hostile atmosphere, but as incorporeal beings can merge with any of Earth’s biological species in a highly cerebral partnership. While a Quasing cannot take over a host’s body, their intellect and knowledge allows them to easily manipulate higher forms of life, such a humans, in order to work towards their goals while still keeping their existence hidden.
Tao was one such Quasing, forced by the sudden death of his current host to merge with unsuspecting IT tech slacker Roen Tan. Roen is initially a completely unsuitable host for the millennia old, highly celebrated Tao, but over the course of the three books, they become a force within the conflict between the two warring Quasing factions on Earth, and end up changing the world.
After taking time off to pen two future fantasy books (Time Salvager, Time Siege), Wesley Chu has once again returned to his Quasing-infested world with The Rise of Io, and while it may feel familiar to fans of his Tao series, it is a completely new and delightful revitalization of that already imaginative story line.
Io is a Quasing, and like Tao she must suddenly transfer to a new host, but unlike Tao she eschews the human who was to be her new host and instead merges with Ella Patel, a cocky, street wise orphan from the slums of Crate Town, a city that developed on the Pakistani/Indian border during the Alien World War. It turns out that Io has a clandestine agenda, and she expects Ella – a host completely off the Quasing grid – to help her attain her aims. What she didn’t expect was for Ella to have a mind of her own – one who is unwilling to let an alien interloper, no matter how smart or highfalutin, to call the shots.
The Rise of Io is a highly entertaining, often hilarious, exciting tale of intrigue, espionage, subterfuge and yes, friendship, that takes the best of the Tao books and punches it up to an even more enjoyable level. While the “plucky urchin” trope may be overly familiar, especially to those of us who love our fantasy novels, Ella is indeed a step beyond the expected. Io may see Ella as a wild card to be played in her maneuverings, but Ella immediately realizes how she can parlay her role into a means to making a profit, or rather, a means to finding a profit in all that she agrees to do. And because a merger between a Quasing and its host exists until the host’s death, Ella’s determination to be more than a biddable lackey in the relationship is a complication that Io must come to terms with, adding an additional layer of manipulation that leaves everyone guessing as the story progresses whether they be human or Quasing, character or reader.
When I met Wesley Chu last October at NerdCon: Stories, he told me that Ella was his favorite heroine – and one would hope that an author would be in love with his current heroic character! But Ella does indeed have a spark; she has a crackle to her that makes her accessible, at times frustrating, at times charming, and always engaging. Add to that an incredibly well developed environment, a host of well defined supporting players, an exciting world conflict and a literary styling that is smart, modern, and oftentimes downright sassy, and you have a book, and a series, that is not to be missed.
The Rise of Io is indeed a triumph, and whether you’ve read about Tao or if Io is your first Quasing, it’s definitely in your own best interests to climb on board. Believe me, you’re in for a fun ride!
~ Sharon Browning