The best way I can sum up this book is futuristic, Solarpunk Dystopian Brazil with a dash of Scott Westfield’s Uglies and Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games. Set in the fictional pyramid city of Palmares Tres, it chronicles the adventures of June Costa “the best artist in Palmares Tres” (you have no idea how many times this line is repeated) and Enki, the reckless Summer King.
Palmares Tres’ governance system is a bit of a mystery. We know that the city was formed after some sort of nuclear war, and that they have a matriarchy with a Queen and “aunties”, who fill the roles of the government. There are some men as well, who are called “uncles”, but June remarks that they’re pretty rare. Every Five years? Eight years? they elect a Summer King, a man who will live for a year and at the end get his throat slashed, and choose the Queen as he dies. This is for two reason- one, after the apocalypse they no longer trust men with power, which seems a bit ridiculous considering women are shown in this book to be as capable of corruption and political manipulation as men, and two, to prevent corruption because apparently it’s hard to bribe you when you’re getting your throat cut, which again, isn’t the best idea. If so, why let them have a year? Why not chose Summer Kings based on their political platforms and kill them soon after they’re elected, once they have an informed opinion of who the candidates for Queen are? Wouldn’t a longer time span just increase the chances of corruption?
In any case, every so often it doesn’t really matter who the Summer King is, because it’s a “moon year”, which basically just serves to reaffirm the current queen’s government. In this year it seems that the Summer King comes from the ranks of the Wakas, AKA the population under 30. As you likely guessed, this is the year in which the story takes place.
And how are the kings chosen, you ask? Well, the people vote on them, but not on the basis of their politics. It’s presented to be more of a popularity contest. Enki himself is famous for dancing, while his two opponents are respectively a composer and a writer. I don’t know if this is because they are Wakas trying to appeal to other Wakas or if this is how it always is. June says that the last summer king race, which had Grande (30+) candidates, was dry and boring and that she didn’t pay attention towards it.
The concept of Wakas and Grandes itself seems a little over the top to me. Even in a world where people live to be 150 regularly, a sixteen year old and a thirty year old are vastly different in terms of maturity, preferences and habits. Same, I’m guessing, with 35 year olds and 95 year olds. Why not have more age categories? Why aren’t the grandes concerned about Wakas getting involved, if they are going to end up as the future of the city? June tries to tell us it’s not like the age old conflict of the old generation vs the new one, but I really can’t see it another way.
Regardless, our heroine June seemed inconsistent and somewhat entitled. Like I mentioned before, the phrase “I’m June Costa, the best artist in Palmares Tres.” is often heard, but we don’t see a lot of artists who work in the same medium as her (graffiti and drawing, mostly, with public installations occasionally), and a plot point in the novel is that someone creates a stencil to spray all over the city and the whole city thinks she did it. She was also amazing at wood carving, dancing, body mods, ect. Everything in Palamares Tres is about spectacle for June, and if that gets in the way between her and school, family, or friends then so be it. She frequently contradicts herself, especially in her desire/expectation to win an award versus how much effort she actually puts in, and acts hypocritical towards her parents. She does show development towards the end, but I still think that she and Enki have a lot of growing up to do, and aren’t helping prove the Wakas to be mature at all. Bebel was probably my favorite Waka, and she is framed for about half the book as the mean girl. For what it’s worth I would have loved to see a relationship between her and June.
The plot could have used more structure. It wandered in tangents and didn’t make it clear what was actually going to happen. The third act should have started earlier, and I would have liked to see more political maneuvering behind closed doors, rather than fancy art installations.
It was also very sexualized. Not as bad as some sex scenes in recent YA (I’m looking at you, Sarah J Maas), but still very casual with its mentions towards sexual acts. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing POC who are also LGBTQ+, and we have a large cast of them, and even a pretty neat poly relationship! And they deserve to have sex scenes as much as straight white couples in YA, but it also bordered, for me, on the fetishizing of POCs, especially with Enki.
And the writing style! It just had random Portuguese words thrown in, which didn’t flow very well. In my opinion, words in other languages should be reserved for when there is no English translation available, like Samba and Capoeira, not cute nicknames to establish that you are, in fact, Brazilian. While the prose has been described as poetic, I found it overdramatic and bland.
I wanted to like this book. And I did, for the most part. There were great concepts, such as the technology, the floating city, the abundance of representation and even parts of the political system. I think the weaknesses, unfortunately, and the writing style, were disappointing, especially in a book that promised so much. I would still recommend it for someone who wants a diverse dystopian, but that’s mostly because there’s no other book like this out there.