I was contacted by Nicholas Conley with the request to review his book. I was provided with a free e-ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.
I am not being paid for writing this review, and Mr. Conley’s request to review his book in no way affects the opinion I have of his work.
However, due to the circumstance that Knight in Paper Armor includes some heavy topics I decided not to rate this book.
My review will also include spoilers and will go into detail about my feelings about this book.
For reader discretion, I advise you to check the list of trigger warnings below, which I have compiled to the best of my abilities. Should you find any of the there mentioned content triggering, please do not read this review and do not purchase the book in order to avoid trauma.
☾ about the book
Title: Knight in Paper Armor
(click here to view Goodreads and here to view Amazon)
Author: Nicholas Conley
Format: ebook, novel
Rating: not rated
Trigger Warning: racicm, sexism, antisemitism, slavery, (attempted) genocide, emotional abuse, on screen death, violence and substance abuse, mention of the holocaust, national socialism and terrorism, exploitation of children and minorities, blackmailing, substance abuse, guns, trauma
☾ the synopsis
Billy Jakobek has always been different. Born with strange and powerful psychic abilities, he has grown up in the laboratories of Thorne Century, a ruthless megacorporation that economically, socially, and politically dominates American society. Every day, Billy absorbs the emotional energies, dreams, and traumas of everyone he meets—from his grandmother’s memories of the Holocaust, to the terror his sheer existence inflicts upon his captors—and he yearns to break free, so he can use his powers to help others.
Natalia Gonzalez, a rebellious artist and daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, lives in Heaven’s Hole, an industrial town built inside a meteor crater, where the poverty-stricken population struggles to survive the nightmarish working conditions of the local Thorne Century factory. Natalia takes care of her ailing mother, her grandmother, and her two younger brothers, and while she dreams of escape, she knows she cannot leave her family behind.
When Billy is transferred to Heaven’s Hole, his chance encounter with Natalia sends shockwaves rippling across the blighted landscape. The two outsiders are pitted against the all-powerful monopoly, while Billy experiences visions of an otherworldly figure known as the Shape, which prophesizes an apocalyptic future that could decimate the world they know.
☾ the characters
Billy Jakobek is young when his grandmother dies. She had always known that he was special, and with her death, there is no one left to protect him from Caleb Thorne, who exploits Billy and his power to affect and change people’s emotion and perception of pain by his touch and his voice.
And so, after Billy’s family is allegedly killed in a terrorist attack, Thorne uses him as a test object for his project.
When Billy comes to Heaven’s Hole, he meets Natalia, the only girl he trusts.
Together with Natalia, he tries to stop Thorne’s plans to commit genocide on the community of Heaven’s Hole and take over America.
Natalia is also young when she loses her father and is forced to migrate to Heaven’s Hole where she has to hide her true identity and is forced to try and survive in the face of racism against the latino/hispanic community and the poverty that threatens to run her family into the ground.
Natalia likes to draw and smoke to cope.
When she meets Billy, he is the beacon of hope she needs, and they connect over their shared trauma.
When Natalia figures out what Thorne Century is doing to Billy, she is determined to put an end to the cause and fight for Billy’s freedom – no matter the cost.
Caleb Thorne is the power-hungry and sadistic owner of Thorne Century, a company that has taken over America as you may know it.
He’s everywhere, and even in Heaven’s Hole, where he disguises a bomb powered by Billy’s powers as a factory that exploits is workers. Caleb Thorne is the cause for poverty and violence in the community.
And he’s power hungry.
When Natalia crosses his plans, he puts up with her – until she starts a revolution.
Using the dictator qualities of his monopoly and his power, he beats her down and has a last attempt at using Billy, the boy he’s been exploiting for years and used as his personal drug, and Billy’s power to blow up the factory in Heaven’s Hole, which he calls emotion bomb.
His current object of desire aside from Billy is Roseanna, one of his employees.
Roseanna Peterson aka Mother is a scientist, who works for Thorne Century and believes that Thorne is using Billy for medical discoveries.
While working for him, Roseanna is blackmailed into posing as Billy’s mother, but eventually, after finding out that Thorne has ulterior motives that she has never agreed with, she pushes for Thorne to strike a deal with Natalia, hoping that will give the teenagers a chance to say goodbye.
However, Thorne breaks the deal and kidnaps Billy but gives Roseanna a chance to leave before later telling her of his plans to blow up Heaven’s Hole.
Roseanna and Thorne meet shortly after the plan fails, and they kill each other.
☾ billy’s powers
Billy can take people’s pain and negative emotions away with his touch. He’s like a sponge, soaking up the pain and making it his own.
His voice, an unearthly sound, can cause people discomfort.
He can read people’s thoughts, which they only notice by getting a headache, and when he touches inanimate objects, he can use them to see its owner’s past life.
Billy has strange visions sometimes, when the emotions and pain of the people he’s around overwhelm him.
He sees a creature he calls the Shape, and it haunts him.
He sees how the factory in Heaven’s Hole blows up and kills people.
And all the while he knows that he is the reason for it.
☾ the world building
America, 2029 – more states, more violence and Thorne Century as the unofficial head of the country.
The monopoly as lead by Caleb Thorne controls the country and its citizens.
People that are not good caucasian christians are being met with violence, racism, antisemitism and exploitation.
The country is full of lies as Thorne attempts to orchestrate yet another genocide while parts of the society are still struggling with the events that happened in the past.
It is almost as if you had turned back time – laws that descriminate against Jews, people who work under inhumane conditions and old white men who kill immigrant girls because they’re illegal.
However, when you think about it, this could happen.
Especially in America, where people apparently haven’t learned from past mistakes.
☾ my thoughts on this book
Usually I would divide this segment into three things: what I liked, disliked, and whether I would recommend this book.
But not today.
Let me start out with the latter and tell you, that I cannot really recommend this book in good conscience.
It’s terrifyingly relevant to the things that are happening in America at the moment, but I feel like in order to read this book, you have to be in a certain head space and you have to be educated.
You have to know about racism, and anti-antisemitism.
And you have to know what you’re getting into when you pick this book up.
Which leads me to my first points of criticism.
• Conley did not provide a list of trigger warnings in the description of the book on Amazon or in the beginning pages of the book itself, which is a huge no go, especially in times like these, and especially considering the content of this book.
• I don’t know what the target audience of this book is.
I read other reviews on Goodreads and it seems as if, at least so far, I am the only teen that Conley has approached with a request for a review.
The main characters are teens, too.
But that does not mean that the target audience is YA, too.
He pitched the book to me as “upcoming dystopian novel […] Knight in Paper Armor, in particular, draws from my own Jewish identity, background, and the various dystopian current events that are happening in the United States today” (This quote has been directly taken from his Inquiry and was not altered) which makes me think that it’s aimed at adults, and not teens like me.
I guess I got lucky, seeing as I am from Germany, and I got educated about antisemitism at school while educating myself about racism in my own time.
I don’t know if other teens my age are as sensitive to these topics – though I certainly hope so.
But, my blog is targeted at teens, and thus, I will not be recommending this book.
Here are some more things that I disliked about the execution of the book.
• In its essence, Knight in Paper Armor is like every Sci-Fi book I have read so far.
It starkly reminded me of The Hunger Games and Divergent because of the dictatorship qualities Thorne Century provides, Billy’s powers and how the plot, dumbed down, is basically just “teens against adults that don’t want to listen or don’t care” – so really, nothing new.
These things, these hobbyhorses of Sci-Fi literature, are then mixed with an abhorrent amount of violence, so much so that reading it could make you sick and characters that seem original until you think about them.
We have Caleb Thorne, aka the dictator, Roseanna aka the scientist that nobody ever listens to (as seen in various Sci-Fi movies), Natalia as the rebellious and oppressed teen (reminiscent of none other than Katniss Everdeen from Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games), and Billy as someone who reminded me of what they did to Tris Prior (Divergent by Veronica Roth) in the movie adaptation – a person who is so different but so powerful that everyone and especially the dictator wants what they have.
• The world-building was mediocre
Apart from the fact that the book is set in the year 2029 and a monopoly is ruling society, the world-building felt lackluster.
I always feel like you should get to play around with lots of futuristic elements when you’re writing Sci-Fi, and I also feel like Knight in Paper Armor’s execution of Billy’s powers would have lended itself to that past blood injections, emotion bombs and pills.
Also, aside from the name and missing population, Heaven’s Hole didn’t really give me the impression of being a hole, or rather a slum, as it was attempting to be.
• A sprinkle of representation here and there is definitely not enough.
The previously mentioned “Jewish identity” Conley mentioned in his inquiry is definitely there, however, it is mostly manifested in one character that dies pretty early on in the book, one Star of David necklace and one torn down Synagogue.
Now, these symbols are definitely very powerful – however, they are soon overshadowed by Natalia’s identity which I found quite disappointing because I would have loved for the book and the representation to be focused on the own voices aspect.
Also, at some point in the book, Natalia is injured and ends up paralyzed from the waist down.
At first, I, having spent a significant amount of my life in a wheelchair and in need of medical attention, was very excited about this bit of representation, although that quickly changed when I saw the way it was handled.
I don’t think the way Natalia sat herself in the wheelchair was very accurate, and the fact that she got bloody palms from using the chair is also…
(pictured here is me, reading this book at 1:30 am last night and witnessing Natalia being paralyzed by a bullet. I was about to DNF it just for that…)
• The villain is generic and uninteresting
I prefer mentally manipulative villains, and Caleb Thorne did not tick the box for that.
The more I learned about him in the chapters written from his POV, the more I was digusted by him.
That’s good, right?
I feel like a good villain is what makes a book interesting, and Caleb Thorne is nothing but a sadistic asshole who was born with a golden spoon in his mouth because he got to take over his daddy’s monopoly.
He’s supposed to be a self-made and intimidating asshole of a man, but he’s just another generic character.
• Too much unnecessary violence
Of course you can argue that violence is what gets a point across.
However, the amount of violence is just what makes the book even more generic – at least to me.
This adds on to what I just said about Caleb Thorne, and this may sound very harsh and out of place for a review, but I just want to use this as an example.
Hitler and the Nazis were – as much as it hurts me to have to admit this – very successful when it comes to fueling the propaganda machine, and while the violent acts they committed by committing genocide are definitely not to be excused, denied or made fun of, there’s a reason for why you will find many people today saying “But it wasn’t all bad. Hitler built the highways!”
I feel like it would not have been that unfitting for Conley to use this, especially because he was featuring his Jewish Identity in the book.
Now, I guess I should tell you some things that I liked.
Even though he is, as I said previously, a quite generic “different from others” kind of character, I still enjoyed his characteristics.
His trauma not so much; but it was still inspiring to see that, even though he had been traumatized, he was still willing to set himself apart from the Shape and use his power for good.
• The fact that Natalia ended up as a congresswoman
I don’t know enough about American politics, but I have watched a couple videos of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaking, and I feel like that’s where Conley might have gotten his inspiration from, but I’m definitely not mad at it.
If you made it this far, thank you for reading this review, and I hope that even though I am not explicitly recommending this book and mainly gave very ranty and negative thoughts on it, your interest may still be piqued.