Free Chocolate, by Amber Royer (Angry Robot Books)
Ah, chocolate. It must be one of Earth’s finest natural creations, right? That’s the premise underlying this charming YA novel in which First Contact with all those alien worlds out there is not for the purpose of cultural exchange, mathematical enlightenment, military domination, or any of the hundreds of rationales. It’s to raid Earth of its chocolate! Well, and a few other things, too, like coffee and vanilla beans.
Within a short time, humans and alien races are mixing freely, some combinations with more success than others, and chocolate production is rigidly controlled by a huge corporation, HGB – Hershey, Godiva, and Bissinger -- which “sprouted in the wake of the First contact War. They quietly made proprietary trade agreements with other planets…making it the most powerful organization ofn the planet.” Bodacious Benitez is living her life as a student, dating a gorgeous guy from Krom (whose irises change color depending on his emotions), when she’s catapulted into an interplanetary scheme to liberate chocolate. Her mother hosts an immensely popular cooking show, bolstering the HGB image.
The most charming aspect of the book, however, is its use of language. It’s told in first person, as is much YA today. Bo is fluent in several languages, notably English, Spanish (her birth language), and Portuguese. This makes sense when you think about it because most cacao-growing regions are Spanish or Portuguese speaking. Bo liberally strews her English with words in Spanish and teen-speak:
I need a hot shower and un poco alone time with Love Hurts, my favorite flufferiffic soap opera – a guilty pleasure Brill knows nada about.
Icy certainty settles in my stomach. I am muerto. Pero, I keep fighting the womborg [a wombat cyborg] anyway.
“Mamá, I only tell the celebarazzi things like how unfair it is that the chocolatiers have to work and extra hour…”
On the down side, the deliciousness of the language forced me to read more slowly than usual. Although most of the meanings can be deduced from context, I kept consulting my Kindle dictionary to get an added bit of certainty. This, combined with the length of the book, had the effect of flattening the dramatic intensity. There’s plenty of action in the story, but it takes place over such a stretched-out length that the overall shape of rising tension and climax, etc., is diminished. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the hours spent with Bodacious, Brill, and their friends.