The Rise of Io by Wesley Chu is a summer blockbuster of a book. It’s fun, action-packed, tells a good story, and makes me eager for a sequel. And for those who haven’t read Chu’s Tao books, don’t worry. The Rise of Io is a great entry point.
The Rise of Io is the story of Ella Patel, a thief and a con artist living in an Indian slum, Crate Town, that has been devastated by the war between two alien factions and their human allies. She’s small, quick, and ambitious. If you like a sarcastic rogue whose dreams exceed her grasp, Ella’s your gal. When she gets involved in a fight that isn’t hers, she ends up being inhabited by (and sharing her mind with) Io–one of those aliens I just mentioned. And it’s not a great fit. Despite that, Ella now has to join the fight. Io’s mission becomes Ella’s mission. You see, Crate Town just so happens to be prime real estate for the rival faction’s new secret facility. And that rival faction just brought in its best assassin, Shura the Scalpel, to make sure no one interferes.
I said earlier that this is a good place to start if you are new to Wesley Chu. The Rise of Io takes place about a dozen years after the Tao books. And everything you need to know is established in this book. For those who have read the Tao trilogy, The Rise of Io offers plenty of easter eggs and a nice contrast (Ella and Io don’t make for a good fit, and Io hasn’t exactly helped her humans blaze a trail of glory). Wesley Chu balances new readers’ needs against keeping his old readers entertained, so old and new alike should enjoy this book.
What I most loved about The Rise of Io are the characters. Ella is smart, capable, and funny. The war has left its scars on her, but she still pushes forward, finding a way to make a life in this new world. I liked that as a con artist, she doesn’t always resort to fighting. Instead, she bluffs, bargains, and lies. Or at least tries to. I also enjoyed her struggles with Io, and how they come to an agreement, if not quite a friendship. Wesley Chu has also created a great antagonist, Shura. Incredibly competent and ruthless, she is nevertheless sympathetic. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m rooting for her, but I understood why she does what she does. She’s a good baddie, not a shallow boogeyman.
I also enjoyed Chu’s world building. The history of the aliens’ involvement on Earth, the recent war, the alleys of Crate Town are all portrayed with a great deal of detail and creativity. It’s exactly what I’m looking for in a novel like this. The rules are spelled out, and things feel real.
This is a fun, fast-paced, adventure slash science fiction. At a time when I’m being bombarded by sad news stories or political posts on social media, this is exactly the break I needed. Every time I read a bit, I finished with a smile on my face. So go grab your popcorn, and get reading. And while you’re at it, if this is your first time reading Wesley Chu, go get the Tao books too. You’ll want to read them when you’re done with this one anyway.