the Little Red Reviewer

Firebreak, by Nicole Kornher-Stace

Posted on: June 20, 2021

I was gonna write one of those really indepth reviews, where I give you all the background on Mallory’s world and “how we got here”. I even had it half written. But then I realized I wasn’t saying the most important thing first, and who the heck wants to read eight paragraphs to finally get to the most important thing, which is:

OMG Firebreak is SO SO SO GOOD. It’s got a TON of stuff going on, and I cried all the time while I was reading the end, a hustle based economy sucks, and when the government makes a few stupid decisions, the consequences last, um, forever. <deep breath> The first half of Firebreak was everything I wanted Ready Player One to be, smashed up with everything I wanted An Absolutely Remarkable Thing to be, and then the story went gloriously off the rails and I when I heard a name that rang a bell I realized I also recognized that sword/gun combo, and I ran and grabbed some other books off my bookshelf because I HAD to read those too all of a sudden. </and breathe>

Imagine if a superhero didn’t know who they were. Or maybe they did know, but they couldn’t escape their employers. Because they aren’t superheroes, they are property. They even have Merch!

Imagine if property decided to steal itself.

Firebreak is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Nicole Kornher-Stace is the best author you haven’t read yet. I love her books so much that I force my husband to read them. He described one of her earlier novels as the best novel he’s read in ten years, maybe ever. That’s it. That’s the review.

Oh, you want some more?

New Liberty City has their own Superheroes! Designed by Stellaxis, the Operatives keep the city safe from the invading corporation, Greenleaf. You can buy merch of the Operatives! They even have their own NPCs in the popular online MMO BestLife! Does your city have its own superheroes? Yeah, didn’t think so!

But the Supersoldier Operatives who are seen as superheroes are not citizens. According to Stellaxis, they aren’t even real people. They don’t even have names, only numbers, like 22, or 05. They were designed and built by Stellaxis, because it is important to Stellaxis to keep their city safe. When your apartment collapses around you, killing everyone you care about, when you are slowing dying of dehydration, Stellaxis will always be there.

Mallory makes part of a living livestreaming BestLife. When internet access is free, and there’s electricity for around 16 hours a day, grinding your way to the top of the charts is a cheap way to make some money, especially if you can score a sponsor who is willing to pay you in cash and water tickets. Oh, didn’t I mention? Stellaxis runs the city, charges for water, and you’ll be in even more debt up to your eyeballs if you end up in a rehydration clinic. People balance multiple jobs and gigs just to buy enough water to not die.

When Mal and Jessa score that unicorn sponsor, they agree to just ignore all the conspiracy theory bullshit the woman is spewing. But when her building completely disappears a few days later? When Mal meets a Supersoldier Operative in real life, streams her encounter, and goes viral? Maybe that disappearing sponsor was on to something after all. Mal doesn’t like attention. She never wanted to go viral.

The Operatives. What happens when you are a superhero and a slave, at the same time? What if you want a different life for yourself? Being a superhero only gets you killed some of the time. And if you are one of the lucky Operatives who didn’t die? It means you watched all your friends die.

The elevator scene!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was screaming!

Firebreak has hustling gamer girl, friendships that are stronger than death, corporations that run the world and take advantage of poor people, all the crap that happens in chat rooms in MMOs, incredible action, and if you’ve ever read a Nicole Kornher-Stace, you know her worldbuilding is amazing and her characters are #ChefsKiss. The book has zero romance. Don’t get me wrong I don’t mind me some kissy books, but zero romance is damn refreshing. I LOVED the scene where Jessa and Mal are livestreaming, and people are being jerks in the chat, and Jessa’s response is “our house, our rules”, woman has zero patience for that shit. There’s a lot going on in this book, because Mal is more than just a “gamer girl”.

Hey wait a minute, that woman 22 is talking about? Her name sounds familiar. That sword / gun combo sounds familiar. Oh shit, is that, is that who I think it is??

Kornher-Stace has stated this is not the third Archivist Wasp book. . . but there are Easter eggs for people willing to look for them. You should know that before I even finished Firebreak I had Archivist Wasp and Latchkey pulled down to read next. To say there are some Easter eggs for people willing to look, that is, um, the understatement of the century.

I cried so much at the end of Firebreak. Like, you know how as a reader, you kinda know certain things are gonna happen? Doesn’t make those things hurt any less when they do happen. And of course I immediately started re-reading Archivist Wasp and Latchkey, and everything suddenly made perfect sense. So. Many. Easter Eggs.

What I love about Kohner-Stace’s characters is that they know what they need to do, and even though they are scared or starving, or in danger, they do it anyways. That’s courage, that’s bravery. You know you have no protection, you know there’s danger, but something or someone you care about is at stake, so you do it anyways. You know how Robin Hobb puts her characters through the ringer? Think that, but even more feels.

That said, your mileage may vary: I’ve read some reviews online of Firebreak where people are saying they didn’t like how much swearing the book has, and they didn’t care for Mallory’s character. When you meet Mallory, if you don’t like her, put this book down, because she only becomes more Mallory as the story continues. She’s not an expert, she’s not super-confident, she doesn’t much care for her job, but she’s damn sure of what kind of person she is. She still remembers when she was a child and her apartment building got bombed and her parents put her in the bathtub with blankets and themselves on top of her. I can’t much relate to being a war orphan or my parents getting killed in a civil war, but I can relate to the rest. I freakin’ adored Mal. Yeah, and I don’t mind swearing either.

A few days ago at work, someone at work asked me if I’d read any books lately that inspired me at work. After I stopped laughing, I said I read a lot of books about characters who aren’t heroes. People who don’t want to be heroes. They are tired and hungry, but they keep going because they believe in what they’re doing. And if that character can keep doing, then damn it so can I. (When they asked if I’d recently read any books that gave great management advice, my response was Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. Likely not the response they were expecting).

God damn it, I’m never gonna find out the name of the damn Ghost, am I?

And if you want to see me burst into tears, tell me the elephant ninja joke.

At least in the next Nicole Kornher-Stace book I read, Jillian vs Parasite Planet, the jokes didn’t make me cry. It’s been my summer of Kornher-Stace, I read like four of her books in a row!

If you’ve gotten this far, just read Firebreak, ok? When you’re about half way through Firebreak, order a copy of Archivist Wasp and Latchkey. Trust me on this.

Oops, ended up writing a super long review anyways.


2 Responses to "Firebreak, by Nicole Kornher-Stace"

I am going to read this one next….hopefully. It sounds right up my wheelhouse..:)

Liked by 1 person

[…] The Little Red Reviewer says: “Firebreak is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Nicole Kornher-Stace is the best author you haven’t read yet. I love her books so much that I force my husband to read them. He described one of her earlier novels as the best novel he’s read in ten years, maybe ever. That’s it. That’s the review.” […]


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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