Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Gun Princess Royale by Albert Ruckholdt (#ya #genderswap #scifi)

As the year comes to a close, I find myself looking back at all the stories I somehow never got to, and feeling horribly guilty about it . . . so this week I am tackling the review pile from the bottom, catching up on my oldest reads, and doing my best to celebrate them as they deserve.

Gun Princess Royale is high school science fiction with a gender twist. It is the story of a feminine-looking young man by the name of Ronin Kassius who once cosplayed as Princess Silver Blue, an animated character, during middle school. It was supposed to be a one-time thing to help out some friends, but it is a legacy that both haunts and taunts him.

Where Albert Ruckholdt really kicks off the story in Awakening the Princess (Book One) is when Ronin 'dies' during a virtual reality tournament, only to wake up several days later to find himself undergoing some unexplained changes, and with a strange voice in his head. Now the property of mysterious, wealthy benefactors, he has no choice but to compete in the Gun Princess Royale virtual reality tournament . . . as a girl named Mirai.

As if playing a gender-swapped heroine were not bad enough, he has to deal with a best friend who is developing some confusing feelings for him, school bullies, and villains both inside and outside the tournament. As introductions go, this was a fun read, although the pace was a little slow for my tastes, and some of the dialogue felt a bit off. Aside from my impatience with Ronin's constant complaining about his role as Mirai, I thought the characters were well-developed, and the rivalries that arise felt genuine.

It is hard to talk about The Measure of a Princess (Book Two) without spoiling the first book, but it does a nice job of advancing the story and the themes of the first book. In fact, the two books really do feel like one story, so I am glad I got to read them back-to-back. Readers who felt like the first book ended rather abruptly will be pleased to see the action picks right back up here.

This is a darker chapter, but also a more exciting one. Having introduced the characters and the concept, Albert Ruckholdt really settles into the story here, focusing more on the action that I was craving and less on the drama that surrounded much of the first book. The overarching mystery of how and why Ronin is in such a situation is better explored here as well, making this far more than just an opportunistic cosplay adventure.

What I appreciated most about this second book, however, was the refinement of Ronin/Mirai. He was a bit of a whiny victim in the first book, and his constant complaining about the situation grated on me. It made sense, and that struggle makes this second book more meaningful, but I spent much of the first book anxious for him to move on. Here, he negotiates some sort of self-acceptance, and begins to settle into both his role and the powers it gives him. As dark as the story was at times, it was also a lot more fun.

Clearly, the story of Gun Princess Royale is not yet done, so do not expect any answers to the big questions, but this second book does feel more complete, more self-contained, with a climax that satisfies while still keeping the reader hooked for Book Three.

Albert Ruckholdt is science-fiction/romance novelist focusing on works written for teenage and young adult readers. Raised on an early diet of science-fiction works from greats such as Harlan Ellison, Roger Zelanzy, Michael Morcook, and Clifford D. Simak, he graduated to modern science fiction works by Iain M. Banks, and Peter F. Hamilton. However, it was his introduction to the style of the Japanese light-novel, and works by writers such as Shoji Gatoh, that inspired him to take pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, and begin writing soft science-fiction that focused more on character interplay rather than the hard science.

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