Right off the bat, I would love to take a moment to recognize how good Alex White is at naming things. Everything in their books has such fantastic and memorable names; whether that’s the long evocative titles, the cool nomenclature of the magic system, character names/nicknames, or the locations/settings. Everything White touches comes away with a memorable name, and that pattern has held true for the first book of The Starmetal Symphony (such a good name), August Kitko and the Mechas from Space.
This book is a blockbuster combination of music, mecha, and sex. Our story abruptly begins with the end of the world. Giant robots with drone battle swarms, called Vanguards, are coming to destroy the Earth and all of its defenders have perished. As the last of humanity’s planets to fall, the mood on Earth is a little chaotic as people await their demise. August Kitko, a jazz pianist of some regard, is at an end-of-the-world party going out in style. He is drinking, playing music, and maudlinly stalking a crush named Ardent Violet who happens to also be playing this party. But when the Vanguards eventually do land and start eating everything there seems to be a schism in the ranks. They begin fighting each other and when August composes a final song to score their battle he finds himself pulled in and merged with one of the Vanguard. Maybe humanity has one last shot at survival.
August’s one flaw, if you can call it that, is how abrupt its opening is. You are not eased into this book, at all. It’s explosive and exciting and fun, but it’s also confusing and a bit difficult to understand what is going on. Having read White’s other work, this is something they struggle with a little bit. White is often so excited to get to the good stuff later on that the intros can come on a little hard. That being said, this is much less of a problem with August than it was with Big Ship At The End Of The Universe, showing excellent growth as a writer, and I found myself catching up to the running start in August very quickly. Now that I have said my peace on my one nitpick on this story I can get into the litany of praise that is bubbling out of me.
Where to even start, I will pick a random element out of a hat just to get rolling. The characters in this book are diverse, vibrant, and loud. Every single character’s voice is clear and memorable and the varied personalities have excellent chemistry. If you haven’t guessed already from the series name, plot synopsis, and profession of the protagonists – the book has a major theme around music. In line with this, the protagonists and supporting characters all feel like rock stars with big egos, big opinions, and big character flaws. White does a fabulous job making their areas of growth original and interesting and not relying on tired cliches. The relationship between our two protagonists, the shy but extroverted August and the exuberant and dramatic (and genderless) Ardent is exciting. White did a fabulous job making Ardent non-binary and yet still sexually alluring to everyone through the force of personality and not the sexualization of any specific gendered body part. White was very careful and clever to never gender them – ever. Never making it clear if they have breasts or a dick, but sensualizing neutral body parts, personality, and attitude. It was extremely impressive and this is just one of a large cast of rogues I cannot wait to read more of.
The plot is a bit of a secret, but I do like how it evolves. The book sucker-punches you with the fact that everything comes together and is going places. Set pieces that initially feel anime-esk in a sorta “We did it because it was cool and no other reason,” slowly all come together and reveal some nice meaty themes and ideas underneath. There are a number of classic sci-fi tropes that White has sunk their teeth into and come up with new fresh versions of and it is a lot of fun. Speaking of fun, that is one of the major subthemes in the book. It’s impressive how White can infuse so much excitement and joy into a very depressing post-apocalyptic wasteland. Characters are struggling with unavoidable sickness, climate death, and loss on an unimaginable level, yet still, find joy in small things. The balance of despair and hope enhance both and make August a very emotional book.
Saving the best for last, the setting. I am not sure how White did it but they managed to make me develop a crush on a 30-meter, solid steel, genocidal tsundere and I don’t know what to do with this development other than wallow in it. The vanguards are capital C Cool. With an array of different designs, abilities, and personalities they are exciting and mysterious. Each little crumb of additional information on the vanguards’ deal sufficed me with excitement. On top of this, what initially looks to be a dead and boring Earth is quickly revealed to be a fascinating post-climate collapse world with a lot of interesting regions. Political intrigue starts creeping its way into more and more chapters as the book progresses and it is definitely a good thing.
All of these different elements come together to make a book that is loud, exciting, vivid, and original. Accept that the start is going to be a bit crazy, fitting a party to celebrate the end of everything, and you will find yourself having a very good time. This book has a lot to teach while also never ceasing to be entertaining, much like its characters. Plus, judging by its cliffhanger of an ending the fun is just getting started.
Rating: August Kitko and the Mechas from Space – 9.5/10
An ARC of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts on this book are my own.