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Hullmetal Girls

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Aisha Un-Haad would do anything for her family. When her brother contracts a plague, she knows her janitor's salary isn't enough to fund his treatment. So she volunteers to become a Scela, a mechanically enhanced soldier sworn to protect and serve the governing body of the Fleet, the collective of starships they call home. If Aisha can survive the harrowing modifications and earn an elite place in the Scela ranks, she may be able to save her brother.

Key Tanaka awakens in a Scela body with only hazy memories of her life before. She knows she's from the privileged end of the Fleet, but she has no recollection of why she chose to give up a life of luxury to become a hulking cyborg soldier. If she can make it through the training, she might have a shot at recovering her missing past.

In a unit of new recruits vying for top placement, Aisha's and Key's paths collide, and the two must learn to work together--a tall order for girls from opposite ends of the Fleet. But a rebellion is stirring, pitting those who yearn for independence from the Fleet against a government struggling to maintain unity.

With violence brewing and dark secrets surfacing, Aisha and Key find themselves questioning their loyalties. They will have to put aside their differences, though, if they want to keep humanity from tearing itself apart.

320 pages, Hardcover

First published July 17, 2018

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About the author

Emily Skrutskie

10 books972 followers
Emily Skrutskie is six feet tall. She was born in Massachusetts, raised in Virginia, and forged in the mountains above Boulder, Colorado. She holds a B.A. in Performing and Media Arts from Cornell University, where she studied an outrageous and demanding combination of film, computer science, and game design.

She is the author of THE ABYSS SURROUNDS US and its sequel, THE EDGE OF THE ABYSS, as well as the standalone HULLMETAL GIRLS. Her latest novel, BONDS OF BRASS, the first in a sweeping space opera trilogy, is now available. She lives and writes in Los Angeles.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 268 reviews
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,084 reviews17.5k followers
August 30, 2018
👌👀👌👀👌👀👌👀👌👀 good shit go౦ԁ sHit👌 thats ✔ some good👌👌shit right👌👌there👌👌👌 right✔there ✔✔if i do ƽaү so my self 💯 i say so 💯 thats what im talking about right there right there (chorus: ʳᶦᵍʰᵗ ᵗʰᵉʳᵉ) mMMMMᎷМ💯 👌👌 👌НO0ОଠOOOOOОଠଠOoooᵒᵒᵒᵒᵒᵒᵒᵒᵒ👌 👌👌 👌 💯 👌 👀 👀 👀 👌👌Good shit
➽and yes, this review, which has been up since June of last year, has a full review now! fun!

In the quiet of the early morning, before the Reliant’s lights begin to glow, I plan two funerals.

I have been anticipating this a lot ever since loving The Abyss Surrounds Us so much, and though it wasn’t Everything I had hoped for, it was overall such an interesting novel about agency. It’s also - and this is a recurring motif in Emily Skrustkie’s work - really kickass.

Hullmetal Girls follows Aisha, who sells her body to become a mechanical soldier for the chance to save her brother, and Key, a girl who wakes up in a mechanical body with no memory of how she got here - or whether she consented. As the two vie for a top spot with their squad of four, they become entangled in a vast rebellion on the ship, and are forced to question everything they know.

This is a book that, first and foremost, plays off fear. And I think it’s really quite brilliant to realize such a base fear: the loss of bodily autonomy. So here’s a story: I am terrified of loss of bodily autonomy! I am also terrified of body horror. And of needles. This book presumably looked at my fears and was like “oh, go fuck yourself then” and it was a lot of fun.

What’s funny is this is not a book that depends off plot - it kept me turning pages, especially at the beginning, but after around 50% of the way through, I didn’t feel totally confused as to where the plot was going - I just found myself enjoying the ride anyway. I would argue this is more of a worldbuilding-focused story. And can we just talk about how cool the world is? Very Pacific-Rim with the mechanically-enhanced copilots and the friendship focus. Very current-adult-scifi with the worldships. Very 2012 dystopia with the oppressive government and rebellion. Yet somehow, this feels like something very new; via a discussion of agency and a lack of tropey romance, it blends a mix of tropes into something that feels very original.

And while the characters weren’t quite as in-your-soul as The Abyss Surrounds Us, I found them really compelling nonetheless. There are two narrators: Aisha Un-Haad, a hijabi aroace girl trying to save her sister, and Key Tanaka, a Japanese girl with her memory wiped. Key’s point of view tends to be less interesting, as she doesn’t really know what she’s trying for.
Something I really like about this book is that Aisha and Tanaka are both angry, and the book does such a good job of humanizing and validating that anger. They are dealing with the loss of their autonomy, of their bodies, and with a classist system attempting to continue that takeaway. The narrative around their realization of this is brilliant, and I found myself rooting so much for them both.

Although I’ll admit to liking Aisha more. Actually, can we just talk about Aisha? She is such a badass, but she’s mostly compelling because she is highly motivated - we know from chapter one of the book that she is trying for a good job so she can support her family, to the point where even if you barely give a damn about the plot, you remain desperate for her to achieve her goals. I also adored Aisha’s family. Her sister Malikah is one of my favorite characters, and her devotion to her and Amar is one of the best parts of the whole book.

Hullmetal Girls is also a book primarily driven by friendship - there is no romance - and by the squad dynamic of the four scelas. And wow, I just love Aisha and Pravaa and Tanaka and Woojin’s squad so much?? Pravaa and Woojin each make for compelling leads - Pravaa is Indian, pansexual, and a trans girl, and Woojin is Korean. They’re all such likable characters that it’s hard not to get caught up in their journey.

Also, I can't figure out where to put this, but Emily Skrutskie’s writing is awesome because it’s both very funny and colloquial and also has very dramatic, cinematic moments. She gets the balance just right for me.

Overall, it’s a an excellent book, not just about a sci-fi world and an assortment of body horror, but about agency. The narrative is so interested in the agency of these characters, and in the loss they must experience, and in their struggle, at every moment, to wrest it back.

→brief negative thoughts←
So I was both… into and also vaguely disappointed by the queer rep? So at one point, it’s established that Pravaa is trans and/or intersex, which is not a source of prejudice in this world, except - and here’s the reasoning behind the and/or - it’s basically just done via saying the character had xy chromosomes and then never brought up again [my friend Acqua talked about this here]. The acearo rep is basically just as one-sided - in one scene, Aisha says she’s aroace, and Pravaa says she’s straight, and Woojin says he’s pan, and it was cool. I liked it. But I also really wish the fact that the cast is Very Queer were like. an actual part of the narrative. I think the author was trying to make all the queer rep really incidental and then went too far in the Quest For Casual Queerness and just didn't talk about it past that? I got the point, and I respect her intent especially as an ownvoices author [Skrutskie is ace and sapphic], but I wanted more :/

Also, the middle is kind of boring compared to the very exciting first 25%. I guess it just didn’t quite make it to a five?

But overall? Yes. This is a scifi book about agency driven by a friendship between two women of color, and I think that’s beautiful.
TW: needles, death in space, body horror and loss of bodily autonomy.

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Profile Image for Cece (ProblemsOfaBookNerd).
332 reviews7,309 followers
July 29, 2018
Hullmetal Girls is the weird, complex, sci-fi book about consent and reluctant friendship between girls I didn't know I was looking for.

This book follows two POVs, Aisha Un-Haad (a hijabi aroace girl) and Key Tanaka (a Japanese girl) when they each become Scela, genetically altered, mechanical soldiers. Aisha makes the choice for herself, a drastic decision that goes deeply against her religion, in order to get the government money her younger siblings need to survive life in the back of the fleet. Key doesn't know why she made the decision she did. She has memories of a life of privilege, a world where she wanted for nothing. But her memory is full of holes, and she can't piece together why a girl of her standing would ever decide to become a mechanical monster.

So much about this book is a discussion of consent, of bodily autonomy, of classism and the moral gray of an uprising. It's a deeply fascinating story, and one that can get horrifying fairly quickly if you have issues with body horror and loss of bodily autonomy - which I do! It's an alarming subject matter! There were times when this was a hard read.

Related to autonomy and lack of consent, I do want to say that there are a couple of characters who experience some sort of outing, or are forced to come out, under unideal circumstances. Scela are often forced to share a brain space and all their thoughts. Due to this system, which the characters are forced into without warning or consent, we learn that one of the side characters is a trans girl. This also leads to a later scene in which Aisha is exposed to memories of characters having sex and, when she is deeply uncomfortable with this, comes out as aroace. At this time, another character comes out as pansexual as well.

I, as a queer reviewer, felt that this scene very clearly established the through-line of lack of consent and autonomy that the main characters were faced with. It was difficult, and wrong, and these characters should not have had to come out the way they did, which I feel is the point the scenes were making. Some ownvoices a-spec reviewers have also felt this, but many feel that these scenes were hurtful, so please be aware of that particular content going in.

Ok, so back to the rest of the book. This features and enemies-to-best-friends female friendship that I would like to shout about to the heavens. Especially because I feel like Aisha and Key were not written to be especially likable characters. Aisha is furious, bold, and unyeilding in her protection and love of her siblings. She will make bad decisions and follow them through fueled by her one-sighted view of how the world should work. I think this makes her a fascinating character, but also one that challenges readers. Similarly, Key is very much a privileged main character surrounded by characters with no privilege and that is played up in the way she treats Aisha, Pravaa, and Woojin. She is also incredibly angry, and a lot of that rage is focused inwards on the holes in her memories and the ways they make her feel incomplete. Because her anger is focused on what she feels she is lacking, as well as the people in her life who have led a much more complicated life, she is also a challenge for readers. But I feel like this book dealt with anger in such a particular, validating way that I also couldn't help but love both Key and Aisha.

Besides the characters, Hullmetal Girls excels in its worldbuilding. I think it is pretty easy to see the author's love of sci-fi wound through the story, especially her love of of films like Pacific Rim. I think the world does a great job of walking a line between that dour feel of an all-powerful regime and the fun of a world set across a group of spaceships. There are moments when it feels like the book allows itself to be more fun, to embrace the fact that its main characters are super soldiers in space. I really feel like that levity lent itself so well to the much tougher subject manner and some of the complex decisions both Aisha and Key were working through.

Oh! And speaking of worldbuilding, I know I just wrote a whole paragraph about some of the aspects of the mind-sharing technology in this world and what that leads to, but mind-sharing is a personal all time favorite trope of mine and I honestly screamed aloud when I realized how it was going to be incorporated. Characters who are constantly faced with that level of closeness, and how sharing one-another's every thought can shape relationships, is a fascinating concept to me that I think was used incredibly well throughout this entire book.

Honestly, and I don't feel this is hard to gather, I adored this book. It had all the elements of a fast-paced sci-fi story I was looking for, it had excellent characters, worldbuilding, stakes, and an exploration of what one is willing to do for freedom that impressed me so deeply. I loved every second of this book, and I can't wait to see how Emily Skrutskie continues to write worlds and stories that are all-consumingly fantastic.


Update June 27, 2018:
RTC, this was fabulous


Apparently one of the MCs is aroace?? I am dying??
Profile Image for destiny ♡ howling libraries.
1,656 reviews5,131 followers
July 28, 2018

I had a lot of issues with the treatment of queer characters in this book, which I wanted to mention in my review, but didn't know how to word things. The representations in this book are pansexual, ace/aro, and trans, and I don't fall into any of these categories as a cis bisexual woman, so I wasn't sure if I was imagining the issues I had, but after talking to friends and reading own-voice reviews, I am convinced that I was right in my initial thoughts.

The trans character is outed without her consent: the Scela have this group-think capability with their exos where they can actually "read" one another's emotions and thoughts, and one of the narrators utilizes this to out Praava without any consent being given whatsoever.

The ace/aro character is forced to undergo a traumatic experience: during their time connected to each other's thoughts, she actually has to witness visual and tactile memories of two of her fellow Scela having sex, which as reviewers like Heather and Leah pointed out, is an incredibly insensitive way to out this ace/aro character, as well as flippantly portraying what is an incredibly traumatic experience for many ace/aro people (this is even a tactic used in "corrective rape" for many ace/aro people, and if that doesn't drive the point home of how harmful this scene was, I don't know what will).

On top of the poor content, the author has taken to invading reviewers' private spaces by harassing them on social media, and more. It's been a bad look all around, and has sadly quite probably removed Emily Skrutskie's other works from my TBR. You can read more about that here, with screenshots and receipts attached.

Between the problematic content and the fact that this book was already a 2.5 at best for me, I'm lowering my rating to 2 stars and will more than likely not be picking up future releases from this author.


A lot of my friends have really enjoyed Emily Skrutskie’s The Abyss Surrounds Us duology, so when I was offered a copy of Hullmetal Girls for reviewing, I jumped at the chance because I assumed this would be pretty noteworthy, too! Sadly, it fell short of my hopeful expectations in a few ways, but it wasn’t a total loss.

This is what a Scela is meant to be. A living weapon, a replacement for the ancient guns that blew holes in the hulls of ships we lost so long ago that their names are no longer taught.

The Scela themselves are a really interesting feature to me, and it’s the biggest reason why I think this was a book with an amazing plot and a slightly lacking execution. The Scela are people who have been given a robotic exoskeleton to wear on their backs, which drills into their nervous systems and feeds commands and information to their brains. They’re also surgically altered to be taller, bigger, and tougher, and altogether, it’s a fantastic twist of body horror in what would otherwise be a strictly science fiction story.

My favorite part of the book was learning about how the exos work, the surgeries required to become a Scela, and the features that came along with it, such as their group-think capabilities and the options for them to exert their willpowers and commands over them teammates or inferior colleagues. I thought this whole idea was super unique and would translate beautifully to the silver screen.

But I’m not Scela. I’m a human being trapped in the metal they made me wear.

Unfortunately, where Hullmetal Girls fell short for me was the characters themselves. There are two perspectives—Aisha Un-Haad and Key Tanaka—but I feel like the story develops much more in Aisha’s POV chapters than Key’s. Some of Key’s chapters are only a couple of pages, compared to Aisha’s 10-15 page chapters, and it made the entire storytelling technique feel unevenly weighted. I actually told my buddy reading partner about halfway through the book that I wished Key’s POV didn’t exist, because if the whole thing had been told through Aisha’s perspective, I could have stayed in the story better.

I also felt like some of the characters—Aisha especially, in the second half—were making choices and displaying behaviors that felt very bizarre compared to their original personality constructs. As someone who analyzes characters relentlessly (I can’t help it, it’s who I am as a reader), this sort of issue breaks my immersion fast, and it became a common struggle in the last 150-200 pages.

I may not be a useful Scela yet. But I’ll be damned if I’m not a useful sister.

The plot itself is intriguing enough once you get a little ways in (it does start off slow), but again, it lost me in the ending. Things happen that feel unnecessary and provocative for the sake of simple shock; they’re incredibly detrimental, yet they don’t carry as much emotional weight as they should.

All in all, did I love this? No, I didn’t. That said, I think this book could be good for a lot of readers, and I’ll probably give Emily’s writing another chance eventually.

Buddy read with one of my faves, Heather! ♥

Thank you so much to Delacorte for providing me with this finished copy in exchange for an honest review!

You can find this review and more on my blog, or you can follow me on twitter, bookstagram, or facebook!
Profile Image for Emily.
Author 10 books972 followers
October 18, 2017
This is my third book. The closer I look at it, the more I realize it's made of things that scare me. Physical things, like surgery and irrevocable body modification and sci-fi body horror. Abstract things, like being known too well, giving away too much of yourself, and being used. But it's also made of things I love: spaceships, jacked up cyborgs, angry girls, and machines with a little sass in them. I hope it scares you, but you love it too.

If you want a head start/little taste, the first chapter is up here!
Profile Image for Claudie Arseneault.
Author 18 books398 followers
February 18, 2019
Went ahead and picked this up because I am working on an analysis about the ways asexuality and aromanticism are often revealed through confrontations (unwanted flirt/sexual advances, microaggressions, etc.). Here are some thoughts ~

Overall, Hullmetal Girls would have been a great example of adventures with queer characters without centering that queerness if it wasn’t for the way it so flippantly mistreats these identities when they present themselves in the narrative. The attention and care Hullmetal Girl gives to violation of consent and bodily autonomy and the way invasion of the mind and body can affect someone seems to vanish when it comes to the way queer identities are revealed.

The following has discussion of outing a trans character and of a seemingly sex-averse aroace (her stomach turns at the mention of sex at least once that I clearly recall, and she seems generally put off by it) character being forced to witness sex between others. Most of this happens because the four main characters are linked together in a sort of psychic system called exosystem, which makes them share the others’ emotions and sometimes thoughts. While it’s possible to exercise some control over what goes in and out, none of them really know how to at first. When they’re first linked together, bits of their history and selves immediately leaks out to the others, and here is the line outing Praava.

"I know little details about them as well as I know myself, from the scar on Wooj’s palm to Praava’s XY chromosomes."

Because it’s not enough to decide not to give your trans character a chance to come out on their own terms, it was apparently necessary to do so with false notion of chromosomes as markers of sexual biology. 300 of studying the body to link it into machines but it seems no one has learned XX/XY is bullshit yet, huh? No one reacts negatively to it, at least, but we don’t get to feel Praava’s shock at this, or any of her inner or outer reactions. It happens and the story immediately moves forward, which left me with the impression no one really thought of it as a forced outing. This is especially frustrating because Praava talks about taking hormones not long after, and this could have served as the willing, casual coming out, making the first intrusion and chromosome stuff completely pointless. Plus, this is the only time the exosystem gives such intimate biological information (they don’t even get heartrates from each others so huuuh genetical composition??), and the only way the rest of the squad would have known about it is if Praava was very strongly thinking about it, which meant it was important to her and should have been treated as such. It’s that, or the narrator learned ‘trans’ and decided to present it as XY. Honestly, no matter how you look at it, it was bad.

Now for the forced witnessing of sexual intercourse… Below is the description of what is shared through the exosystem. Aisha, the aroace character, is not the narrator at the time, so we once more don’t really get to know her interior reaction. (I think this contributes a lot to the feeling these events can be dismissed as minor, rather than being treated with the serious they deserve)

"[...] suddenly the exosystem swells with the memory of her hands tracing down his enhancements, of his unnaturally warm body pressed flush against hers, of ports clacking awkwardly together and sweat and flesh and— I instinctively shake my head, trying to clear away the images, the sensations, the sex."

Part of me is glad the description wasn't any more explicit, even though the narration leads me to believe what they witness is, but also, it greatly diminishes the impact of it. I was both told this scene was awful, and that it wasn't so bad. Well, for me it was awful when it clicked that Tanaka "clearing the images, the sensations, the sex" meant so did Aisha. Considering her stomach flips earlier in the story at the mention of someone flooding the exosystem with mention of sex... Yeah.

Aisha comes out in the conversation immediately following this, stating that this kind of "problem" will not happen with her because she is aroace, and as this is the only time asexuality and aromanticism are mentioned clearly (the other is an oblique reference that Key uses as an attack, so... thanks for that), the coming out also has the bonus effect of implying all aroace people are at best uninterested in sex.

And that's pretty much it when it comes to queer rep. It's not the focus--why, awesome! But the consequence of spending very little time mentioning queer identities or reflecting them through internal narration is that the instances it shows up have WAY more weight. So no, I wouldn't recommend this book for the representation in it.

A few other notes: I couldn't distinguish Key's and Aisha's narrations unless they referred to each other, or near enough. Every time I stopped mid-chapter, I got confused. :/ Also, the narrative here involves humans dropping their first planet, Earth, to go colonize another, and it completely erases Indigenous from its worldbuilding. And finally, this is a story with cyborgs and a lot of machine-enhancements that frequently equates Scela (half-human, half-machine) bodies to being a monster, and I wasn't entirely comfortable with that treatment. Disabled reviewers could discuss this better; it just often felt like despite treating its characters as humans, the story pushed for the idea that their body wasn't, and that they were trapped in it.

With all of that said, it does have some good stuff. While this isn't the most thrilling story I've read, and some of the twists are predictable, I did grow attached to Aisha and her anger and her love for her family. I looove the concept of four people's mind connecting so thoroughly and learning to be there for each other and supporting each other the way they do at the end. I love a good revolutionary story. The reading experience wasn't bad, but I was incredibly excited for it before hearing of its potential rep issues, and this still leaves me with mostly disappointment.
Profile Image for Rachel (TheShadesofOrange).
2,084 reviews2,945 followers
April 12, 2020
3.5 Stars
I personally loved the futuristic technology in this novel with augmented cyborg humans under the mental control of government mandated AI implants. Likewise, I enjoyed reading about ethnically and sexually diverse characters. The story was not particular original, which I didn't really mind, but I found the actual narrative disappointingly weak. I wanted to completely love this novel, but instead I have to settle for appreciating it. Even though it's classified as young adult, I thought it avoided a lot of the usual tropes and read more like adult fiction.
Profile Image for Sana.
1,076 reviews959 followers
Shelved as 'to-read-so-bad-it-hurts'
December 13, 2016
The author called this: "My little standalone sci-fi Battlestar/Pacific Rim/Sense8/Snowpiercer frolic affectionately known as Cyborg Space Jam" SO OBVS NEEEEEEEEED X INFINITY
Profile Image for Leah.
1,006 reviews338 followers
July 13, 2018
I had high hopes for this book, but unfortunately, it fell flat in a lot of ways. Read the full review on my blog.

Brief note for those who only look at GoodReads reviews: if you are trans and/or aroace, please read the full review as the coming out scenes for the trans character and the aroace character were really harmful.
Profile Image for Dani ❤️ Perspective of a Writer.
1,512 reviews5 followers
August 4, 2018
Check out more reviews @ Perspective of a Writer...

When her brother contracts a plague Aisha volunteers to become a Scela, a mechanically enhanced soldier sworn to serve the Fleet, the collective of starships they call home. If Aisha can survive and earn an elite place in the Scela ranks, she may be able to save her brother. Key Tanaka awakens in a Scela body with only hazy memories of her life before. She knows she’s from the privileged end of the Fleet, but she has no idea why she chose to give up her life of luxury. If she can make it through the training, she might have a shot at recovering her missing past.

The short review...

A little known fact about me is that I LOVE enhanced soldier stories. So when I saw this one about two females I was pretty excited and had to squeeze it into my July lineup! Aisha was fascinating with her reliance on religion and contrasted so well to Key who was angry and driven (for good reason). I can't say I liked either women as the conflict got quite bitchy at times... but I appreciate the kind of women they represented. I also really loved how they came to be friends in the end, that is the kind of journey between rival women that I can get behind.

I QUITE LOVED the scela technology... it was sick and scary and such a strong presence through out the book. I TOTALLY enjoyed every minute of action due to this creative experience with the rig! I loved how it was part of their thoughts and what made them a team. I loved how it connected them to their Marshall trainer and to the other scela. It MADE the book!

The story was nothing knew... another power struggle between those ruling and those being oppressed. Honestly it was simply a vehicle to explore the scela rig! And it worked, it created all sorts of creative sci-fi space experiences. I won't say much more than this for spoilers just know that the "enhanced soldier" technology is what this book is all about!

I quite enjoyed the world building too. I do find it hard to believe how long the metal was lasting in space... wear and tear just says that it will be gone sooner rather than later... we are talking hundreds of years after all... but other than that unrealistic detail I think the socio-economic and political situation are all on point. There would have been a hierarchy established and it would have been hard for those in power to give it up. It was the little details that made the world for me.

FYI I was on goodreads seeing what other readers rated this book and saw a friend mention there was supposed to be queer rep...uuuuh what?! if you are looking for this rep don't count on it... I didn't even realize it was a thing... I barely remember the 4 teammates mentioning their sexuality... I was a little icked out because at the time they were talking about having sex with all the metal hooked into them and I quickly moved on from the conversation, not even sure why romance was a thought at this point... So yeah, don't look here for queer rep, sorry folks... But certainly look for major soldier action instead!

Cover & Title grade -> B-

This is a little messed up but I was totally drawn to the cover... mainly it was the HUGE letters of the very intriguing title, Hullmetal Girls that drew my eye but still it was effective, right?! I mean I did end up reading the book! But its also TOTALLY deceiving... As that is NOT at all what the girls looked like in their rigs... The description is quite detailed and there was lots of talk of skin and metal in close contact and with the rig big pieces that click into place... which is not what we're looking at. And the proportions are off between the two figures... The closer one's head is so tiny compared to the body but the back one is proportionate and looks overall of a more streamlined design. In the story all 4 teammates are in the exact same rig. Better to have a more distant figure that is drawn in front of an even bigger title as that is enough of a draw!

As a Writer...

As a writer, I recognize this is a rather old idea... big enhanced rigs that a human is made part of to participate in a war like environment. As a reader, I've read a couple of these stories with this at the center and really loved them and am always on the lookout for more like them. So is it a good or bad thing that we've seen story like this before?!

Well I think its a good thing. Of course, this story changed up the details so it really worked VERY WELL. They weren't in a war but were a sort of space police. There was not planet but a series of ships (this worked really well at several junctions of the story to make the scela technology really shine!) The main characters were women! No stereotype is evil... its how we reuse ideas as writers and make them out own that determines if an old idea is made new.

Hullmetal Girls is the YA female centered version of enhanced soldier boys and it was a damn fine adventure! I quite enjoyed the fact it was light on romance and was a standalone story... We need more books where female friendships don't just exist but they are formed right there in the story for the reader to see and feel!

⋆ ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Authenticity
⋆ ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Writing Style
⋆ ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Plot & Pacing
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ World Building

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review. It has not influenced my opinions.

You can find this review and many others on my book blog @ Perspective of a Writer. See my special perspective at the bottom of my reviews under the typewriter...
Profile Image for Jessica Cluess.
Author 8 books1,378 followers
February 17, 2018

This is the Battlestar Galactica cyborg space military mashup you never knew you always wanted. Fascinating biotech, flawed but strong characters, realistic relationships, a unique militaristic society, plot twists and turns galore, it all amounts to one of the best YA sci fi books out there.

I'm not a big sci fi person. I'm not a cyborg fan in general. And I LOVED this book. I can think of no better recommendation than that. Go buy this baby now.
Profile Image for Iris.
549 reviews253 followers
April 15, 2019
4.5 stars

This took me a good hundred pages to warm up to (keep in mind this book is not that long - only 320 or so pages), but OH MY FREAKING GOD I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN.

Profile Image for Heather (The Sassy Book Geek).
358 reviews141 followers
July 19, 2018
Review Originally Posted On The Sassy Book Geek

Buddy Read with Destiny!!

Update: I have mentioned the potentially triggering content involving LGTBQ+characters in this book, characters being outed involuntarily in a manner I didn't agree with. However, I have also seen the author invade a reviewer's private space also in a manner I don't agree with so unfortunately I don't think I'll continue reading her work. It isn't right for a reviewer to feel that their opinions can be attacked. For more information on this please refer to this post where the controversy is discussed including screenshots.

**** Thank you to Delacorte Press for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!****

Trigger Warnings: Child Death, Body Horror, Non-consensual outing of LGTBQ+ Characters & Semi-Graphic Descriptions of Medical Procedures

No one is more disappointed with this rating than me, “Hullmetal Girls” has been one of my most anticipated reads for 2018 since back in 2017. However, it just didn’t live up to my expectations, it wasn’t a terrible book and I can see other readers enjoying it but it wasn’t for me either.


First of all I thought the story was very lackluster and downright tedious at times. I feel like I read an entire 300+ pages full of nothing, there didn’t really seem to be any sort of direction for the plot. If I were going to try and describe the plot it would be: group of mechanized super soldiers, also there’s some stuff about the governing body and a rebellion. That’s it. No specific group really comes out to shine, it’s just a jumble of the three and the government and rebellion are grappling for power. Overall I was pretty bored while reading and that really disappointed me.

One thing about the story that I did like were the Scela, the mechanized super soldiers I mentioned. They were interesting and pretty unique, people undergo intense body modifications and surgery in order to be merged with the mechanical bits. They are also able to be fed orders and information via these alterations. This is also where the body horror comes in and for those of you who don’t know body horror is a subgenre of horror in which someone goes through some sort of violations of the human body. This isn’t intensely graphic by any means but the surgery portrayed at the beginning of the story could make some readers a bit queasy. It’s an interesting combo with sci-fi I thought and the Scela were the most interesting part of the book for me.

However, in the book there is a link the four characters share where they’re all essentially in each other’s head-spaces. No hiding anything. While I thought it was an interesting concept I don’t think it was executed in a great way. I know that the idea of sharing your innermost thoughts is horrifying and I know that is what Skrutskie was going for but at the same time I felt this was a little too invasive. For instance: one of the characters is outed as being transgender involuntarily because of this link. There’s another instance where two characters had sex and the memories and images are forced into everyone’s heads as a result of the link, thus outing a character as aroace. I personally thought this was a pretty insensitive way of handling the revealing of the characters’ sexualties and gender identities.

There were also two alternating POVs: Aisha and Key. I found Aisha’s POV to be more interesting and relevant than Key’s, every time we would switch to Key’s I found myself getting a lot more bored. I honestly think we could have done without her POV completely as it didn’t really add all that much to the story, it could have all been easily told from Aisha’s POV only.

Another thing I didn’t enjoy was how the exos/Scela equipment changed the character’s personalities. I can understand making them a little more “tough” but there were scenes where characters went completely out of character and that was really jarring. It made me feel like I wasn’t even reading about the same characters anymore and that I didn’t really know them.

A couple last points as well: the pacing felt slow, there wasn’t a ton of action, and there were essentially no plot twists (at least none that felt like a shock to me). Also there wasn’t all that much world building, especially for being a sci-fi.


The characters were a little “meh” for me, although they were much more interesting than the plot. My fave character is definitely Aisha especially since she’s one of the only characters that gets any development or personality. As for Key, well I didn’t like her during my entire read-through she was just unlikable plain and simple. She thought of herself as better than her squad mates just because of her status in the caste system. We didn’t really get to know much about any of the other characters though so I wasn’t really bothered to care a whole bunch about them.

There is quite a bit of diverse representation with the characters: Aisha is a Ledic which is inspired by Islam, Key and Woojin are Asian (though it’s never stated on page), and Praava has darker skin though her nationality is never stated on page either. Praava is also transgender, Aisha is aroace, and Woojin is pansexual.


There was a bit of romance in “Hullmetal Girls” but like with everything else it was messy and odd. As I mentioned earlier there was a sexual relationship between two characters, although I’m not sure to what extent the relationship progressed. And there is an odd relationship that Key develops with someone that just felt….well odd and also out of nowhere, like a romance for the sake of romance. Overall though there wasn’t any romance overshadowing the plot.

In Conclusion

What I Loved:

The Scela and their mechanics
Diverse cast of characters

What I Didn’t Love:

The plot was boring
Involuntary outing of LGTBQ+ characters
Key’s POV was unnecessary
Character’s personalities were inconsistent
Pacing felt slow
Not much world building
The romances were “meh”


I know I’ve said it a few times already but I was so sad that I found this so disappointing. I really, really wanted to like it more but there wasn’t much for me to like. I can’t even say I’d really recommend this for the diversity since I found the outing of the characters to be really insensitive. However, if this still sounds interesting to you go ahead and give it a shot, it may be to your liking but it just wasn’t for me.
Profile Image for rachel, x.
1,718 reviews856 followers
October 1, 2021
Trigger warnings for .

Representation: Aisha (mc) aroace & hijabi; Key (mc) Japanese; Woojin (sc) pansexual; Pravaa (sc) transgender.

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Profile Image for Chessa.
720 reviews58 followers
February 19, 2019
I was super ready to love this: angry cyborg girls, space, queer characters?! Sign me up!

Alas. I have basically read this book before. It’s pretty much Hunger Games, without the literal games, in space. See also: An Unkindness of Ghosts.

The thing about space books is I love them so much, but my standards are also v v v v high as a result. I liked the initial premise of this book a whole lot - but felt really let down in the delivery unfortunately.

First up, if you were here for queer characters, well, I hope you like your queer content kept to exactly 1 page, because that’s what’s up. Someone literally says, “I’m aroace” and someone else says, “I’m pansexual” and fin. Ok, there is also a trans character, but this is also v v v background. I mean, I don’t need my queer characters to be queer on every page, but this was...very check-boxy. Queer content? Check.

Second, it almost felt like the author couldn’t decide whose POV we should really have, so she just included both. And the bummer about that is that the characters are so similar (or are at least now in their lives are having such similar experiences) that they were seriously indistinguishable sometimes. I had to literally check the chapter name to remember whose POV we were in this time. It shouldn’t be that hard with 2 characters, and yet.

Third, I guess I’m just suuuuuuuper bored of the Evil Empire storyline. I want something new! Is it so hard to have an antagonist that isn’t the shady, conspiracy-loving government? Y’all, THAT IS LITERALLY OUR REALITY RN, AND I’M READING TO ESCAPE IT!!!

And the thing is, the two antagonists were so...boring. Like, I guess the banality of evil, etc etc etc but zzzzzzz. Also extremely President Snow and Alma Coin, like down to the wire. Even some of the plot points of their evil, just. So much.

Did I mention that the spaceships they are on function like districts from HG? Cuz that’s also a thing. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The cyborg parts of the book were kind of horrifying at first but then interesting - I just wish they had been more interesting. There were so many events of convenience that just felt lazy.

Again, wanted to love it, I really did. Sorry it wasn’t for me.

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Children’s for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review. This did not influence my review in any way.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,261 reviews222 followers
June 8, 2020
On board a fleet of starships which house the remnants of humanity in a never-ending search for an inhabitable planet, a totalitarian society enforces its will by use of cyborg creatures called Scela. Aisha Un-Haad is responsible for her sister and sick brother and faces the reality that the only way to get the money needed to treat her brother and keep her sister safe is to volunteer for the horrific transformation into a Scela. From the other end of the fleet and a privileged background Key Tanaka wakes up after her Scela reconstruction with no knowledge of why she made the transformation. The fleet's controlling General Body is at a critical point in its conflict with the rebellious Fractionists who wish to split the fleet and break the General Body's control. There's a recruitment drive on for Scela and both Key and Aisha are a part of a newly recruited group of trainees, but it's not an ordinary group, and Key and Aisha are part of that.

Life as a Scela is depicted as a really different experience from that of a baseline human. Enormous strength and resilience with a sensor suite and onboard computer that's in partial control of their person side, but also as part of a hive mind that can be as small as the individual squad or as large as all Scela. It's also really interesting to see how relatively ordinary citizens cope with suddenly becoming literal tools of a repressive regime.

I actually ended up liking this much more than the other books I've read from this author, and it reminded me a lot of another series I like (Medusa Uploaded).
Profile Image for OutlawPoet.
1,205 reviews69 followers
March 26, 2018
Unfortunately, Hullmetal Girls just didn’t live up to my hopes.

I loved the mecha aspect of everything. The author put such thought into her cyborgs – the way the mecha merged with the human, and some of the ways in which it really didn’t.

But our Girls were kind of…bland. They were so…so…angsty/introspective most of the time. (And, BTW, I hated our Hullmetal Boy.)

The worldbuilding was a little slow for my taste. It took forever for me to really even understand the main point of the plot. And, unfortunately, we kind of get into trite YA territory rage against the evil government oh thank god our girl(s) is the ONE (or in this case the TWO).

I just wanted a little more.

So, the mecha kicks butt. But it needed a little more of everything else.

*ARC Provided via Net Galley
Profile Image for Tara Sim.
Author 19 books1,205 followers
February 21, 2018
If you like badass girls, space adventures, gray morals, and huge mecha soldiers, this is the book for you. Emily once again demonstrates her ability to craft an action-packed story that nonetheless wallops you right in the feels.
Profile Image for Andy.
2,408 reviews190 followers
February 21, 2021
February pick for the #WickAndJaneBookClub on Instagram. The theme was Asexual MC!

This book takes place in the future. The human population has left Earth because the planet has been destroyed (yikes). For 300 years, they've been traveling in the Fleet which is under control by the General Body. Their army is made of Scela which are human-machine cyborgs. Only the most desperate people undergo the potential surgery to become a Scela, the process is painful and results in the loss of some bodily autonomy.

Aisha Un-Haad would do anything for her family and when her younger brother contracts the plague, she knows her only hope lies in becoming a Scela and the paycheck for Amar's treatment. Key Tanaka is a perfectionist with big dreams about being the best, but when she wakes up as a Scela, she doesn't know how or why she decided to take the metal.

Aisha and Key end up in the same squad, along with their two other squad mates: Praava and Woojin. I may have come into this with the wrong assumptions, but for me I thought this universe was queer-normative. I went into this knowing almost all the MCs were queer so the non-consensual outings read differently with that mind frame. I highly recommend reading Claudie's review to learn more about this. After reading this and a couple other reviews, I am lowering my rating from 4 to 3 stars.

Besides the problematic outing, I really enjoyed this book. I loved both Aisha and Key and how different their personalities were. The squad goes through basic training and in it they become part of an exosystem which mentally/psychically links the four of them. I loved the exosystem part, it was just so dang cool!

This was a fun dystopian space adventure. There were definitely times my emotional well being was stressed, but I really liked this. My favorite part was seeing the squad grow closer, especially Aisha and Key. At one point, I was hoping a QPR might develop between them but alas.

Profile Image for Jessie  (Ageless Pages Reviews).
1,695 reviews875 followers
July 4, 2018
maybe a 2.5 if I am being lenient. Maybe.

I am disappointed, though. This book has more than a few good ideas but the messy execution of them makes it hard to stick around, much less immerse myself in Key and Aisha's POVs. The worldbuilding is sink or swim, but without enough information provided and the POVs felt indistinguishable. There is a definite uptick after about 65% in -- the story makes up somewhat for lost time by the end but it's not enough to entirely compensate.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
707 reviews78 followers
February 20, 2020
My rating is pretty arbitrary because I don’t think this was a bad book (I think it was probably good?) but I didn't enjoy it. All of the characters hated each other for most of the book, and most of them were incompetent, which just made me frustrated no matter how justified their feelings were or what else was going on.
Profile Image for Whitley Birks.
294 reviews355 followers
July 12, 2018
I was most of the way through this book and stuck on why I was having so much trouble finishing it. It made no sense why I wasn’t devouring the book as fast as possible – it’s got spaceships and cyborgs and conspiracies and training montages! It’s got girl friendships and cool tech and interesting side characters and evil governments being taken down from within!

And…it’s the last one. Taken down from within. Because, as much as there’s a lot of stuff going on with factions and resistance groups and such, neither of our main characters actually have any motivation to take down the evil government. They’re just sort of stumbling through the plot, poked and prodded by circumstances and outside actors. Any urgency I felt in this plot was generally contained within individual plot points, and once those points ended, both of our main characters were like “m’kay, that was weird, back to training to be a good government lackey now.” Granted, this dynamic changed near the end, but it took long enough that my sense of connection had really waned. There was a sense of ‘okay, get on with already,’ rather than any emotional satisfaction from seeing their struggles come to fruition.

It’s really shame, because in the personal sense, their struggles were really great. Aisha and her family concerns and Key with her identity crises were both beautifully wrought, and made for compelling stuff…while we were in their chapters. But then we’d leave their chapters and go back to conspiracy plot and lose the emotional thread because they had no motivation for that other plot.

The sci-fi aspects were really great, and the body horror stuff was just the right amounts, with lots of chilling descriptions of the turning-cyborg process. The characters all learning how to handle their new, enhanced bodies and coming to terms with both the good and the bad parts of it were interesting to read. There was a mind-share aspect which I think could have been used to more potential, as is in the book it seemed more like an excuse to info-dump on non-POV characters, and then got ‘turned off’ when the plot needed it to be gone. But other than that, yes, cyborg goodness.

So, yeah. Good characters and setting, but not a lot of follow through on the tension which made for a rather fragmented read. I’d still suggest it for people who are interested in the subject matter, because it does deliver on the summary.
Profile Image for USOM.
2,416 reviews199 followers
July 6, 2018
(Disclaimer: I received this arc as a gift from a friend).

Hullmetal Girls was rich, thought provoking, and full of two fantastic protagonists. I loved that some describe this book as full of 'angry cyborg girls' because that to me sounds like my anthem. I want angry cyborg girls and Skrustskie delivers.

So let's begin with the characters. First off, Key felt like this breath of cathartic fresh air and she remains this enigmatic puzzle until the end of the book. I was really expecting Aisha to be my favorite. And she is the obvious choice for me (not to mention she's aro ace!!!!!! I screamed when I saw this). Both of our protagonists are rich, detailed, and they felt so genuine.

The world building here is phenomenal. But what proved to me that Hullmetal Girls was the book for me was the cyborg aspect. They have these Scela which are like these alien embodiment. It has a will and it sort of mends to the body. It's supposed to be this symbiotic process, because if it's not, then the human can die. But this had all sorts of delicious (I know that's a weird word to use) consequences and challenges for the book. Are they still human? And what parts of their agency do they retain?

I can't get over the book. There's too much that I love.
full review: https://utopia-state-of-mind.com/revi...
Profile Image for A.
234 reviews18 followers
October 8, 2018
My friends, this book let. me. down.

Aroace protagonist in a book about cyborgs? HELLO? This is my niche. Unfortunately Hullmetal Girls didn't really deliver. The characters felt one dimensional (very clear motivations but not much beyond that); the plot wasn't well structured; and the descriptions fell flat. (Seriously. The descriptions. I could never wrap my mind around what the cyborgs actually looked like. And at one point, I realized a character who hadn't been fully described, who I'd been imagining as a dude in his 40s or 50s, was actually a teenager.)

I won't speak beyond my own identities, but the representation felt.....off. I can't quite put my finger on it. It was refreshing to see an aroace character explicitly call herself aroace but, as other reviewers have pointed out, it's basically forgotten after that. Other identities are treated similarly. Is the book trying to play the representation casual? Maybe. But it did feel a bit like tokenism to me.

(Please note, however, this is not a comment on the ~controversy~ that sprung up around this book and author. That is not informing this review.)

All in all, this was a big bummer to slog through--especially after I had been looking forward to it for so long.
Profile Image for Faith Erin Hicks.
Author 90 books1,449 followers
September 7, 2018
The setting for this story was 100% my jam: spaceships, cyborg girls, humanity broken down into class systems, brutal, female-centric sci fi. I really loved the worldbuilding. Unfortunately the characters, villains and their motivations were super thin, never quite living up to the promise of the setting.
Profile Image for Arys.
649 reviews35 followers
July 11, 2018
Hullmetal Girls by Emily Skrutskie is a young adult Sci-Fi novel. Set 301 years after a fleet of ships leaves the Solar System in search of a new planet where humanity can survive, things have settled into tiers based on how close a ship is to the front of the fleet. A terrorist group, Fractionists, aims to take power in order to break up the fleet rather than keep it consolidated. The General Assembly's troops and enforcers, Scela, are made up of cyborg warriors. Those who have volunteer to risk their lives to see if they can join with an exo.

Told from two different POV's of people who have decided to take that chance. Aisha Un-Hand has made the choice to become Scela in order to help her family. Her pay goes to medical care for her brother and to keep her sister from having to work a dangerous job. Key Tanaka cannot remember why she decided to take the exo. Her memories are disjointed or non-existent. Each is from opposite ends of the fleet and brings an opposing and complex perspective. As they and two other Scela recruits they are joined with go through training and assignments we find that things are even more complex than they seem between the General Assembly and the Fractionists and as Aisha and Key learn more and speculate it creates an added complexity to a story with an innovative setting and interesting dynamics.

Overall I enjoyed Hullmetal Girls by Emily Skrutskie both for some of the Sci-Fi themes, familiar and unfamiliar blended together, as well as for the layers of the story we are given as the characters learn more about their new and past selves and the underbelly of the Fleet. This was a very detailed book which gives us both social dynamics and technical futurism.

(I voluntarily reviewed an advance review copy of this book I received for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my open and honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.)
Profile Image for Josalynne Balajadia.
331 reviews7 followers
January 23, 2023
Rounding down. This was a well written book but unfortunately it missed the mark with me.

The biggest problem was pacing. Some parts of the book were a such a slog and when we got to a turning point the events happened quickly so we could go back to being thinking about the internal angst both of these characters have. Within the last 80 pages there was a second twist that meant to set the end state of the novel, but there were lots of ways this concept could have been reinforced in a alternating first person POV.

The other issue I had was that many reviews mentioned that the cast of characters was diverse. Diverse queer space operas are a big interest of mine but imagine my disappointment when, besides the mention of individual trans, pan, and aroace identities, it does not go beyond that. The reveals happened within 50 pages of one another and added nothing to the story besides honourable mention. Certainly, nobody in the LGBTQIA+ spaces owes an explanation, and representation matters, but in the written word I do want a little more than just a mention. There was something unsatisfying about it.

If you like YA's with lots of classic tropes then this might be a better fit for you than it was for me.
Profile Image for Kal ★ Reader Voracious.
548 reviews189 followers
June 7, 2020
Read out the first chapter of Hullmetal Girls here!
"The Chancellor sees us the way humans do, the way I used to see Scela. We're tools. Weapons. Things to be wielded with force."
Hullmetal Girls is an ambitious science fiction novel that brings together many elements into an interesting (and frightening) future. The book gripped me with its first words, providing just enough of a primer of the world, the customs, and I had high hopes for this Battlestar Galactica mashup with cyborgs and a militaristic dystopian future. Unfortunately, this book fell short for me and didn't live up to my hopes.

It's been three hundred and one years since humanity left the solar system and took to space in search of a new planet to call home. They live in a fleet of ships that are all under Commander Vel's command and searching for a home together. Due to rising tensions from the Fractionists that want to see the fleet split up into smaller groups to search, Vel has requested a large recruitment drive for people to volunteer to become Scela, cyborgs in the General Body that are the military force of the fleet.

Hullmetal Girls is told in the alternating perspectives of new Sclea recruits Aisha Un-Haad and Key Tanaka, but there are also two secondary characters that are part of their "unit": Woojin Lin and Praava.
--We are introduced to Aisha as she is going in for her procedure to be made into a Scela (what they call cyborgs) and serve in the General Body. We are present for the painful operation of her taking the metal. She is from the backend of the fleet, the poorer areas, and has chosen this to help her siblings.
--We are introduced to Key as she wakes up from the procedure in recovery and discovers that she has no memory of her life prior to the operation. By her mannerisms and drive, she deduces that she is from the front of the fleet, privileged in ways that mean she wouldn't need to choose this life. Is she a true believer?
The characters all took to the metal for different reasons; however, we learn that Key doesn't remember those reasons or anything from her life before.
"Nothing left for me except my exo and this new purpose I found in the fragments of myself."
Much of the story is consumed by the conversion to Scela and their training, and I was left wondering what the plot of the book actually was. While there were hints to the political situation and the potential conspiracies, for me they were mired down by the Scela conversion and training. I don't read a lot of science fiction with cyborgs so this may be something typical of the genre that isn't to my personal preferences. I found myself bored and skimming after about 40% of the book, and it wasn't until conspiracies arose and motives were questioned that I got back into the story a bit.

I like a dual-POV story, especially with characters like Aisha and Key that obviously are from different situations and backgrounds; however, at times their inner monologues were very repetitive, adding to the feelings I had that the book was drawn out longer than necessary. I also found the character motivations a little blurred at times, shifting without reason as it suited the narrative. There are a number of occasions where Aisha or Key's position on a subject made a complete 180 with hardly any convincing or acknowledgement that they had changed their mind.

There are many elements explored in this tale: religion (Ledic) versus... I assume atheism, as the Ledic disdain was clear but there was not contrast opinion or explanation of why it fell out of favor; utilitarianism (greater good) and gray morality; class systems and prejudices based on where in the fleet you were born. This book has a diverse cast of characters, and there are characters which identify as aroace and pansexual; however, it is important to note the sexuality discussion was all of two sentences.

This is an ambitious tale of power, loyalty, and family set in space. I personally found the cyborg aspects (the conversion and training) to be the least compelling and wish that part of the story had been a bit shorter. There were breadcrumbs dropped in the early pages that come in to play much later, but I found the exploration and intrigue of the latter 40% of the book to be the most interesting and wish that they had been fleshed out more. Hullmetal Girls has a lot of elements being explored - religion, class systems, utilitarianism - but for me those components were overshadowed by the Scela narrative and left me wanting more. At its core, this is a story about the extent the government and its opposers will go for "the greater good," and how people get swept up into something they didn't sign up for.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher, Random House Children's / Delacorte Press, for providing me an e-arc of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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