Review: Rise of the Red Hand by Olivia Chadha

Goodreads Synopsis: A rare, searing portrayal of the future of climate change in South Asia. A streetrat turned revolutionary and the disillusioned hacker son of a politician try to take down a ruthlessly technocratic government that sacrifices its poorest citizens to build its utopia.

The South Asian Province is split in two. Uplanders lead luxurious lives inside a climate-controlled biodome, dependent on technology and gene therapy to keep them healthy and youthful forever. Outside, the poor and forgotten scrape by with discarded black-market robotics, a society of poverty-stricken cyborgs struggling to survive in slums threatened by rising sea levels, unbreathable air, and deadly superbugs.

Ashiva works for the Red Hand, an underground network of revolutionaries fighting the government, which is run by a merciless computer algorithm that dictates every citizen’s fate. She’s a smuggler with the best robotic arm and cybernetic enhancements the slums can offer, and her cargo includes the most vulnerable of the city’s abandoned children.

When Ashiva crosses paths with the brilliant hacker Riz-Ali, a privileged Uplander who finds himself embroiled in the Red Hand’s dangerous activities, they uncover a horrifying conspiracy that the government will do anything to bury. From armed guardians kidnapping children to massive robots flattening the slums, to a pandemic that threatens to sweep through the city like wildfire, Ashiva and Riz-Ali will have to put aside their differences in order to fight the system and save the communities they love from destruction

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Climate Fiction

Date of Publication: January 19th, 2021

Publisher: Erewhon Books

My rating: 3/5

A big thanks to Olivia Chadha, Erewhon Books and Netgalley for the digital ARC of this book!

The world is dying; bombs and pollution have made the air toxic and the sea has swallowed up whole cities. In the South Asian Province, the lucky few who are deemed worthy get to live in Central, a climate-controlled biodome with fresh air and technology that can keep them young and healthy. The rest of the population live in the slums surrounding it, struggling to survive by any means necessary. Ashiva, a member of the revolutionaries fighting for the citizens, and Riz-Ali, a hacker living in Central, seem like an unlikely pair. Together, they will fight to protect their communities at all costs, even if it means going head-to-head with their province’s government. 

I was excited to read my first climate-fiction book (cli-fi as I recently learned). The premise was intriguing; secret revolutionary groups in a dystopian future, cybernetically enhanced people, biodomes to fight toxic pollution, it all sounds fascinating. I think that the author Olivia Chadha put a great amount of effort in building a vibrant futuristic world affected by human-made climate disasters. Ashiva is a strong female character, and I loved that she is not some perfect cookie-cutter heroine. She is a war-torn and resilient as you would have to be when living in the slums surrounded by death and poverty. Riz-Ali was a great contrast to Ashiva, being one of the privileged citizens living in Central and having grown up in wildly different circumstances. The story Olivia Chadha built and the characters she filled it with is wildly imaginative and full of potential. 

I wasn’t a big fan of the multiple perspectives we switch through between chapters. It made sense to move between Ashiva and Riz-Ali, but there were also chapters featuring Taru, a third character I was not expecting. I found that it became a bit tricky to follow each storyline, especially with all of the details and secondary characters that are included in the book. At certain points it was hard to follow exactly what was happening, because there were so many other details to remember in order to keep the story straight. The sheer amount of detail Olivia Chadha managed to pack into this first book is incredible, I just had trouble retaining it all at once, and this made it difficult to immerse myself in the story. 

The Rise of the Red Hand is a book with many levels. It is rich in cultural elements which brings the futuristic South Asia to life. The author’s exploration of climate change, class disparity and rebellion against governmental agencies is nuanced and thoroughly explored. Maybe it’s my personal inexperience with science-fiction that made it harder for me to get through this book. It might potentially take me a second read-through to really appreciate it to it’s full extent. I will still recommend this book to Science-Fiction enthusiasts who are looking to start a promising new series.

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