Don’t Trust Me On This One: Road to Ruin by Hana Lee

Posted 10th May 2024 by Sia in Fantasy Reviews, Queer Lit, Reviews / 5 Comments

Road to Ruin (Magebike Courier, #1) by Hana Lee
Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: East Asian-coded cast, bi/pansexual MC, bi/pansexual MC, dyslexic MC, pre-polyamory
Protagonist Age: 19; 19; 20ish?
PoV: Third-person, past-tense; multiple PoVs
Published on: 14th May 2024
ISBN: B0CL5FWRR6
Goodreads
three-stars

An electrifying, gritty fantasy from debut author Hana Lee that takes a royal messenger on a high-speed chase across a climate-ravaged wasteland, featuring motorcycles, monsters, and magic.

Jin-Lu has the most dangerous job in the wasteland. She’s a magebike courier, one of the few who venture outside the domed cities on motorcycles powered by magic. Every day, she braves the wasteland’s dangers—deadly storms, roving marauders, and territorial beasts—to deliver her wares.

Her most valuable cargo? A prince’s love letters addressed to Yi-Nereen, a princess desperate to escape the clutches of her abusive family and soon-to-be husband. Jin, desperately in love with both her and the prince, can’t refuse Yi-Nereen’s plea for help. The two of them flee across the wastes, pursued by Yi-Nereen’s furious father, her scheming betrothed, and a bounty hunter with mysterious powers.

A storm to end all storms is brewing and dark secrets about the heritability of magic are coming to light. Jin’s heart has led her into peril before, but this time she may not find her way back.

I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Highlights

~magic motorbikes
~dinosaurs in the wastelands
~love letters that don’t know they’re love letters
~the world is a lie
~villains can surprise you

Road to Ruin is a book I have been pining for ever since I saw the publication deal announcement a couple years back – it was pretty clearly going to be polyamorous, and in a post-apocalyptic fantasy setting??? Yes PLEASE!

It didn’t quite live up to my hopes, but it’s still a great adventure-type read that a lot of readers are going to enjoy!

In the aftermath of some unspecified cataclysm, some humans have gained magical talents, placing them above the legions of the Talentless. Human civilisation has been reduced to scattered Kerinas – cities, basically, protected from the deadly mana storms by Shieldcasters – amidst a wasteland populated by dinosaur-esque monsters, cannibal raiders, and the aforementioned mana storms. Each Kerina has its own culture (although all seem to believe in the same gods, even if they worship them/interpret them differently) and trade between them doesn’t seem to exist. The only exception to this are the small, individual packages and letters carried by Couriers from one Kerina to another – there’s no trade in the way we’re used to thinking of it, where cities and countries swap resources and so on. Kerinas are each apparently entirely self-sufficient, although we don’t actually see much of what the quality of life is like inside them – our only glimpses are of the lives of the very wealthy.

Jin is a Courier who’s been taking letters back and forth between Prince Kadrin and Princess Yi-Nereen – who live in separate Kerinas – for years. Because Kadrin is dyslexic, Jin has always read Nereen’s letters aloud to him; because women in Nereen’s Kerina are not taught to write, Nereen has always dictated her letters to Kadrin to Jin. This obviously gives her an inside view of their relationship, and almost makes her a part of it; both Kadrin and Nereen consider her a friend, and their letters to each other often include bits of Jin’s commentary, which she’s been (playfully) ordered to include.

So it’s really not weird at all that when Nereen decides she wants out, it’s Jin she turns to for escape, and Kadrin she looks to for sanctuary. If Jin can just get Nereed to Kadrin’s Kerina, everything will be fine.

Spoiler: things do not go according to plan.

Road to Ruin is a very easy-to-read book, the writing kept simple and accessible, the worldbuilding fairly minimal (although there’s much more of it than there seems at first!) I want to say this is one of those books that would be a good intro for someone who doesn’t usually read fantasy – there’s nothing pretentious about it, and it doesn’t depend on the reader being familiar with genre conventions. You can dive right in, and everything you need to understand what’s going on is squarely between its own pages.

…I was a little bored. And I don’t know why! Because when you look at it objectively, there is plenty going on in this book, complete with twists and a few genuinely surprising reveals. There’s also some really cool groundwork laid for further revelations to come in the sequel/s. I should have been completely hooked.

And I wasn’t. There’s quite a bit I liked in theory, but didn’t really care about in practice – there are Women Belong to Themselves Actually issues, and classism, and twisty religions that have perhaps mutated from what they meant originally, and the mystery of the Road Builders (us??? Is this meant to be set in our future??? Are we the Road Builders??? Very unclear, will probably become clearer later in the series). There is a Completely Unexpected Thing, which I would love to go into more detail on but I can’t see how to do so without spoilering you – Jin and Nereen stumble onto a very cool discovery, there, that’s the best I can do, and I, as a worldbuilding nut, wanted to know so much more about that than we got (although kudos to Lee for believable language barriers; I’m a little tired of fantasy protagonists always being linguistic geniuses and picking up new languages in ten minutes flat).

There are also dinosaurs. They live in the wastes and different ones can be dangerous in different ways. I’m not going to lie, something about the inclusion of dinosaurs really rubbed me the wrong way – maybe because they seemed so random? But if this ISN’T a future version of our world, why NOT dinosaurs??? (Or even if it IS set in our future, can I swear that some twit wouldn’t clone dinosaurs and release them into the wild at some point? No, no I cannot.) I can’t justify my dislike, I just…didn’t like it.

Between every chapter we get one of the letters that have been going between Nereen and Kadrin for years, which were surely there so we could see the development of their relationship – to establish it as established, if you will. But I have to admit that I didn’t end up very invested in the love story, despite being so excited for a polyamorous fantasy. I could see genuine respect and friendship between all three of our protagonists, but romantic vibes and chemistry? Uh, no. Not at all. It fell very flat for me.

I wonder if most of this was more due to the writing style rather than the story itself? Plain, blunt/direct prose generally doesn’t work for me, and even though it felt appropriate to the book’s adventure/action vibes, it may have prevented me from connecting with the story properly. Because I really don’t think this is an objectively bad book. (Although I really, really didn’t understand the bad guy’s plan. Like, at all. The goal, yes, but not how doing what he wanted to do would accomplish that goal.) I think the right reader will find it fun, and enjoy the twists, and all the different plot threads that Lee weaves together.

But for some reason, Road to Ruin didn’t feel twisty to me. Even though it is. It felt straightforward despite not being predictable; it felt simple even though there are so many balls in the air all the time; it felt thin despite having layers and layers of worldbuilding and politics and all going on.

You will notice, this is all about my feelings. Because I can’t point to any particular thing (well, except the bad guy’s plan) and say, this is not good. If I take a step back, and try and look at this book objectively, there’s plenty to be impressed by. And yet I am not impressed. I’m not that interested. It doesn’t feel (that word again!) at all memorable. I do not see myself picking up the sequels.

I don’t know what’s going on, but for whatever reason, I don’t think I’m seeing this book properly. I don’t trust my own judgement on it. That judgement being: it’s perfectly fine, not terrible, not amazing, potentially fun for the right kind of reader.

But I think it might be kind of amazing? Is the thing?

Basically, please read a lot of other reviews for this book before you make your decision on whether or not to buy it. This one time, I’m telling you not to listen to my take. I think I’m wrong, wrong in a very odd way that feels very strange from the inside. And it means my opinion probably shouldn’t be counted.

Banner artwork by Elena Zakharchuk

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5 responses to “Don’t Trust Me On This One: Road to Ruin by Hana Lee

  1. I hadn’t heard of this and you know I skirt romance-focused fantasy, but.. I’m intrigued? Perhaps especially because you appear to feel so conflicted about it. I suspect I’ll bounce hard and fast, but I’m willing to take a peek and see 🙂

    • Sia

      I really wouldn’t call it romance-focused – the developing romance definitely takes a back seat to everything else going on!

      I hope you do like it. I know I should! I’m so confused as to why I don’t.

  2. So, the dinosaur addition sounds *awesome* so it’s quite sad that it didn’t work with the story all that well! Overall sounds like an interesting concept!

    • Sia

      Well, it didn’t work for ME – that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work for YOU! Lots of people love dinosaurs much more than I do 😀

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