Score: 91/100 (9.1 out of 10)
Deehabta's Song is a Stephen Alder novel that showcases impressive world-building as well as a compelling main character.
Krissa is a highly-skilled, passionate, and determined martial artist from the Mindas Fight Academy, trained under the skilled Master Mildriss. Krissa is a mix between Mulan and Ip Man. She is one of the only (and one of the best) practitioners of Caderyn fighting arts, a fighting style and practice that is banned by the authoritarian government and their enforcers, the EPF. The empire bans this practice and many other aspects of Caderyn life and culture because it fears a resurgence of the years-long war that dominates the background of this story. The Caderyn War was a long and bloody conflict between the empire and the Caderyns it sought to subjugate.
Krissa had found herself in the center of this conflict as almost a Boudica-like figure against the might of Imperial Rome, and now like Caratacus finds herself spared and assimilated into the dominant culture at the expense of her own. Krissa constantly has flashes and nightmares about that time 30 years before when she was a warrior and a Caderyn. They haunt her constantly. The empire, like the Borg or the Romans, are prolific at assimilating the people they subjugate. In this sense, it's almost like these victims are overwritten or reprogrammed to think and believe a certain way. In a sense, her love for Caderyn martial and her nightmares are her repressed subconscious coming to the forefront, screaming to be let out and be heard. This is something that a lot of native and indigenous peoples can probably relate to. For example, Native Hawaiians work and fight to preserve their language, food, and culture in the face of an overwhelming western influence and Americanization.
We do get some Ip Man-like vibes from Krissa as she's the practitioner of a secret martial art who can take out multiple baddies at one time, especially when armed with a staff. It's almost like wing chun or kung fu “magic” if you could even call it that. We almost wonder who would win in a fight between Krissa and Sis Jones from “Surviving the Second Tier” by M.K. Lever. That would be a GREAT brawl between two very skilled and determined female fighters. We'd give the edge to Krissa in the case of her having a staff or being able to use her powers, but hand-to-hand, mortal-to-mortal might be too close to call. C'mon though, Sis was undefeated and beat up 220+ pound trained fighters with her bare fists. That would be an awesome fight!
Speaking of Krissa's other powers, she appears to have an old ability to summon animals with her singing voice, something which greatly turned the tide of the war in her previous life. This is why controlling her voice and ability to speak is such a big deal to the government when they try to assimilate her.
The assimilation process, at least the one shown to the reader, is primarily demonstrated by Dr. Zackron. Believe it or not, Dr. Zackron is not evil, nor is he really a bad or terrible guy. Really, Zackron seems to be a guy who buys into the “good work” he's doing, truly believing that he's saving these people who would've otherwise been executed. He views assimilation as giving these people a second chance. He even stands up for the well-being of the captives, insisting that they still be treated like human beings. That's ironic considering that he's basically turning them into cyborgs and patting himself on the back while doing it. The same can even be argued for General Pen who is really just doing his job and securing the empire. General Pen's men even provide Krissa with food, water, and some semblance of privacy while she's in captivity. They could've easily starved or outright killed her if they wanted to, especially knowing how dangerous she is. The real villain is definitely the empire and the EPF. Why wouldn't it be? That's par for the course.
As mentioned at the beginning of this review, this book demonstrates some impressive world-building. Both Roon and Caderyn feel lived-in. There's even talk about how the wildlife in Caderyn in the post-war era is quite dismal, mostly consisting of “creepy crawlies” despite fluffy animals having once been plentiful there. The government mansions also emphasize the pompous, obnoxious excess of Roon.
All in all this is an adventure-filled sci-fi/fantasy/thriller novel you can check out on Amazon!