Monday, 29 December 2014

Once We Were by Kat Zhang

Once We Were by Kat Zhang is the second book in the Hybrid Chronicles trilogy. I read the first book a couple of years ago with the gap resulting from US and Australian release dates not being aligned and generalised confusion/lack of release date tracking on my part.
Eva was never supposed to have survived this long. As the recessive soul, she should have faded away years ago. Instead, she lingers in the body she shares with her sister soul, Addie. When the government discovered the truth, they tried to “cure” the girls, but Eva and Addie escaped before the doctors could strip Eva’s soul away.

Now fugitives, Eva and Addie find shelter with a group of hybrids who run an underground resistance. Surrounded by others like them, the girls learn how to temporarily disappear to give each soul some much-needed privacy. Eva is thrilled at the chance to be alone with Ryan, the boy she’s falling for, but troubled by the growing chasm between her and Addie. Despite clashes over their shared body, both girls are eager to join the rebellion.

Yet as they are drawn deeper into the escalating violence, they start to wonder: How far are they willing to go to fight for hybrid freedom? Faced with uncertainty and incredible danger, their answers may tear them apart forever.
After the long gap (in number of books read, even if you're not willing to agree that two years is that long in actual time) since book one, I mainly remembered the worldbuilding — still my favourite aspect of this series — and the ending of the first book. Luckily, there was enough recapping near the start to bring me up to speed quickly. I found it useful, but I suppose someone picking up Once We Were with What's Left of Me fresh in their minds might find it a little tedious. But it only lasted about one short chapter, promise!

As I said, the worldbuilding remains my favourite aspect of this series. The story continues to support the exploration of the two people in one body aspect, even as the plot deals with more immediate external concerns. The dystopian pan-American society wants to eradicate all hybrids — people who don't "settle" into just one soul per body — which puts the main characters in permanent danger. But while dealing with that they're also grappling with the issue of how to have a boyfriend when your body is not solely your own. Really, it continues to be an interesting exploration of such issues.

The main action of the plot is less creative but still written interestingly enough. At the end of the first book I was a bit uncertain about where the series was going; or more accurately, I was disappointed that it seemed to be following the dystopian formula. It does seem to be continuing in that vein with this instalment focussing on acts of rebellion. However, the framing of the worldbuilding is sufficiently interesting that I'm invested in the story and definitely want to know how it ends. (I'm also kicking myself that I didn't buy book 3 at the same time as book 2, sigh and curses at pricier hard covers.) I should also add that this is a dystopian series that remembers the Rest of the World exists and, in this volume, even touches on why they aren't doing anything about the Americas. There are also some nice titbits about world history and how it both differs from and parallels our world (to clarify, two people being born in one body was something that always happened, not a new development or anything).

Once We Were was an engaging read that I pretty much read in a day. I have enjoyed this series a lot and I am looking forward to reading the last book. It explores a science fictional concept in an interesting way, albeit in a YA dystopian framework. I highly recommend this series to YA fans and also to SF fans who find the central "What If" interesting.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2013, Harper Teen (US, the Australian release was later but still with HC)
Series: Hybrid Chronicles book 2 of 3
Format read: Paper, gasp!
Source: Purchased from a non-Amazon-owned online book shop


  1. I am so happy you liked this. I really enjoyed the first (like you, it was the world building more than anything else that appealed to me), but I was very unsure how it could be sustained over a series. I'll give book 2 a go now that it's got your tick of approval!

    1. Yay! You should definitely read it! It's not as new and fresh as the first book, but that's to be expected since it's book 2. I'm just really annoyed at myself for not buying book 3 at the same time. I had clicked on it... and then I took it out of my cart. Sigh!