The Bot Wars have been over for six months, but Robert St. Kroix hasn’t returned from the battlefield. His two sons, 12-year-old Trout and 20-year-old Po haven’t given up hope, especially since their father’s internet-connected heart monitor can’t confirm his death. Desperate for answers, Trout makes a simple video pleading for information about his father. He posts the video online, where it quickly goes viral. This starts a chain-reaction of events: Dad’s heart monitor comes back online, Po is taken into custody, and Trout is whisked deep into Bot Territory. Bot Wars, an action-packed yet meaningful novel by J.V. Kade, follows Trout’s attempt to locate his father in enemy territory and rescue his brother from the hands of a manipulative government.
Here’s the backstory: in the near future, robots take-over society’s menial tasks. Robots work as laborers, in manufacturing, and as domestic servants. Almost every house and business owns at least one robot. As robot technology advances, robots begin to feel human emotions and became sentient. Those advancements lead the robots to demand increasing rights, and when those rights are denied, civil war breaks out. After 18 months of fighting an uneasy truce is established; the southeastern United States becomes a free bot territory. In the remaining states, robots are outlawed and deactivated on site (except Texas, which reverts to its independent status.) Trout and his brother live in District 5, in the former state of Colorado.
The trick in writing a near-future story lies in the ability to create a society that is somewhat similar to present day, and just different enough to establish the conflict. Kade (actually popular YA author Jennifer Rush) creates such a society in Bot Wars. The technology is advanced – with hoverboards, self-driving cars, and of course, robots – but not to the point of being unrecognizable. Trout’s world isn’t dystopian like The Hunger Games or Divergent, but we get the feeling that left unchecked, it may just end up that way.
Trout is our first-person narrator, and Kade makes sure we’re experiencing life as he does. Trout and Po’s relationship is reminiscent of the Curtis brothers in The Outsiders, with the elder brother serving as surrogate father working for a meager salary while the younger brother searches for elusive satisfaction in a broken world. The writing in Bot Wars is expressive and literate.
“I stand there listening to the emptiness of the house and the hollowness of my chest, like my heart ran off in the middle of the day because it was sick of hurting. Not that I would blame it.”
Trout (author Kade) also has a talent for describing smells. An office building smells like “leather shoes and lemons.” Imprisoned brother Po smells like “fried beans and sweat.” An underground industrial tunnel smells like “a beach ball fresh out of the package.”
As he searches for his father, Trout meets a well-developed assortment of robot and human characters. Kade successfully establishes the “humanity” of the robots and the quirkiness of the humans. I won’t give away the major plot twists, but let’s just say that Bot Wars challenges our ideas of what it really takes to be human. The book’s premise leads to exploration of themes including human rights, slavery, self-determination, and social justice. Unfortunately, those plot lines are left unresolved, but it looks like they’ll be further developed in the sequel, Meta Rise.
To be honest – based on the title and the cover – I was expecting a two-dimensional Transformers knock-off. Bot Wars gives us much more. Part cautionary science fiction, part social justice discussion, and completely engaging and readable, Bot Wars deserves a place on your library shelf and in your classroom library. It’s WRENCHED! (That’s future talk for really, really good!)