This takes place sometime in the future, in a place that I'm guessing is somewhere in the Middle East. Julia is a 12-year-old revolutionary, prepared to die, if necessary, to overthrow the Secret Emperor. She's supposed to get deep inside the palace and record its architecture, so that her fellow revolutionaries will know exactly how to attack. In order to do that, she must become a harem girl, but at the same time she must avoid allowing anyone to see the special hardware she has hidden under her burqa, the hardware that connects her to an AI named Robin.
This was terrible in nearly every possible way. The best things I can say about it are that I didn't notice any typos and that there were kernels of cool things. Julia really does ride a giant mechanical beetle, for example. Also, Julia's love of Julia Roberts (from whom she derived her alias) and Batman helped humanize her, although those details left me feeling even more confused about the world-building.
Readers didn't get many world-related details – I'm really only guessing, based on Julia's burqa and her occasional mentions of her ancestors, that this took place somewhere in the Middle East, and I certainly couldn't say specifically where. There also weren't many character-related details. I knew that Julia had a mother (still alive?) and a father (who she thought was dead). I knew she liked Batman enough to have attached Batman wings to her burqa, although it was unclear whether she'd gotten to name Robin or whether the connection with Robin was a happy accident. I knew she liked Julia Roberts enough to choose to go by the name “Julia.” I knew that she'd gotten her first period a week ago and that she was still a virgin. That was it. All other characters were, at best, names and jobs only.
Are you wondering why Julia's period and virginity were important details? All I can say is that Julia's period apparently marked her as no longer a child, and her virginity enabled her to take certain drugs for...reasons. I'm not really sure. Julia's age combined with her virginity didn't seem to fit with how sexualized her POV was at times (by the way, this book is written in first person present tense). A few examples:
“My code name is River Delta. Which is appropriate, since I'm a woman now. And all women are deltas between their thighs...” (15-16).
“His hand closes over mine and I feel the thrill of being touched by a man...” (16) This man was literally just taking a coin from her, payment for the portrait she was about to have painted.
Later on, there was her drug-induced relationship with Rosefield, who was either another aspect of herself, the drug itself, or something she was manipulating while under the influence of the drug. I wasn't sure. Julia described herself as the virgin and Rosefield as her beloved dragon, coming to consume her.
There were a few moments when Julia felt a bit younger, but mostly her POV was that of an adult who happened to inhabit a 12-year-old body.
One of the main reasons I picked this book up in the first place was the AI. That turned out to be both disappointing and kind of disturbing. I was happy when the AI made its first appearance about halfway through, as Robin to Julia's Batman. However, at some point it morphed into Joker. I initially assumed it had been hacked, but it turned out that this was just another aspect of its personality. Its interactions with Julia when it was in Joker mode were...gross. And yet Julia still seemed to consider it an ally by the end of the book. I think? I don't know.
A large part of the problem was that none of it really made much sense. I thought the first half of the book was confusing, but things only got worse when drugs were introduced to the story. First person present tense + drugs is a recipe for disaster. I was left with the impression that neither the characters nor the story really mattered much. What mattered was the message...except I couldn't figure out what that was supposed to be.
In the end, this was a 102-page load of pretentious nonsense with a pretty cover. I liked the artist's work enough to look her up (her name is Barbara Sobczyńska), but I have zero interest in reading more of the author's works.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)