Whoopsie doodle. For today’s review, I just learned that I read the second book in a series without reading the first and somehow never noticed*. Well, take that as a solid indicator that Ymir, by Rich Larson, the second book in The Violent Wars series, is a pretty good standalone read. While I have no idea what book one (Annex, apparently) is about, Ymir is a story about a company man named Yorick who betrayed his frigid ice planet homeland for personal gain having to return to his homeland on a job and things immediately start going terribly for him. It has short punch chapters, a weird narrative style that I vibed with, and a dark sense of humor that matches its grim setting.
*Update. I have since learned that this book is standalone with very confusing shelving on websites and unrelated to Annex. You can find out more in this interview: https://paulsemel.com/exclusive-interview-ymir-author-rich-larson/
As I mentioned before, Yorick is the star of the show—a bioengineered corporate mercenary who does dirty jobs in the name of capitalism. His one stipulation of joining the company was that he never gets sent to his homeworld, but—spoilers about corporations—they suck and don’t care so back he goes. He left Ymir two decades ago, with half his face blown off and no love lost for the place. But when his employer’s bottom line is threatened by a vicious alien machine, Yorick is shipped back home to hunt it.
The name of the game in Ymir is “how bad can things go for Yorick.” Yorick is a perfect protagonist for this setting, somehow reaching the perfect balance of relatable, sympathetic, and repulsive. This means that as things get worse and worse for him you get to feel schadenfreude that he is getting his comeuppance while simultaneously still rooting for him to pull through. It’s a masterful balance that is greatly aided by Yorick’s personality, best described as ‘gruff misanthrope falls down 7 flights of stairs covered in rakes.’
The setting actually greatly reminded me of Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan as our quiet and rarely speaking protagonist is aided in his quest by a colorful menagerie of willing and unwilling side characters that populate this futuristic sci-fi hellscape. The corporation’s first universe that Larson paints is miserable, filled with tiny people struggling to not be crushed under the wheels of capitalism. The book’s anticapitalist message feels well-timed for current world events.
The narrative style of the book is also really fun. Chapters start very short, only 1-2 pages long sometimes. At the beginning of the book, Yorick is a senseless zombie, an automaton going from place to place and enforcing the company’s will who is more likely to have things happen to him that to do things. As the story progresses and Yorick is slowly drawn out of his mind fugue, his agency increases, the narrative becomes clear, and the chapters increase in length as Yorick starts directing the plot. It is a great framing device and I had a lot of fun with it.
If I had a single complaint it would be that the book doesn’t bring a lot of new ideas beyond its novel narrative style to the table. I had a ton of fun while I was reading the book but it didn’t stick with me very long after putting it down. That’s not such a terrible thing though, not everything has to be a life-changing introspection.
Ymir is a terribly good time, and I will definitely need to go back and read Annex now to see if it changes anything. The narrative is clever, I vibe with the anticorporation rhetoric, and Yorick is a very interesting protagonist. If you are looking for a grim, but funny, shot at the current state of the world look no further.
Rating: Ymir – 8.5/10
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.