Review | Dalí – E.M. Hamill

About the Book

Dalí Tamareia has everything—a young family and a promising career as an Ambassador in the Sol Fed Diplomatic Corps. Dalí’s path as a peacemaker seems clear, but when their loved ones are killed in a terrorist attack, grief sends the genderfluid changeling into a spiral of self-destruction.

Fragile Sol Fed balances on the brink of war with a plundering alien race. Their skills with galactic relations are desperately needed to broker a protective alliance, but in mourning, Dalí no longer cares, seeking oblivion at the bottom of a bottle, in the arms of a faceless lover, or at the end of a knife.

The New Puritan Movement is rising to power within the government, preaching strict genetic counseling and galactic isolation to ensure survival of the endangered human race. Third gender citizens like Dalí don’t fit the mold of this perfect plan, and the NPM will stop at nothing to make their vision become reality. When Dalí stumbles into a plot threatening changelings like them, a shadow organization called the Penumbra recruits them for a rescue mission full of danger, sex, and intrigue, giving Dalí purpose again.

Risky liaisons with a sexy, charismatic pirate lord could be Dalí’s undoing—and the only way to prevent another deadly act of domestic terrorism.

256 pages (paperback)
Published on August 7, 2017
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A little while ago, I bought Peacemaker by this author. Then, as soon as I bought it, I realized Dalí was out, and I decided to buy that too and read this one first, then move on to Peacemaker. And… long story short, here we are.

Set in a futuristic world, replete with spaceships and planetary travel, Dalí is the kind of book that was seriously gripping from page one. Hamill has a real eye for detail, letting no aspect of her world (universe?) building be overlooked. Somehow she manages all of this, including its complexities, without ever making me feel bogged down by information overload. Naturally flowing into the text, the world comes alive through the brushstrokes she uses to create it with. 

Where Hamill truly shines, however, are with the complexities (apparently this is my favorite word in this review) of the people and various other beings that populate this futuristic space. Politics play a big role in this book, and while some of the themes felt a bit heavy-handed, I think they were believable in the context of the world she created. A natural, if uncomfortable, evolution, if you will. And I could also see where some real-world influences could have nudged these events along in the story. Basically, there’s obviously something the author is trying to say, and I think Hamill does it well.

This is also where some readers might be a bit overwhelmed and decide the book isn’t for them. There’s a lot of trans and nonbinary oppression in Dalí, and while the book makes it’s standpoint (fundamentally against all of this) absolutely clear, it is a pretty important plot point. A lot of bad things happen offstage, like rape is alluded to, for example. Slavery. Human trafficking. A whole lot of harmful slurs and the like. Again, the book is absolutely against all of this, but for some people it might be a bit too much, so I feel like you might want to be aware before you jump in with both feet. 

I will say, it’s not all bad. There are places in this world where people can go and be accepted, and we do experience some of that in the story. There are people fighting the good fight, and you’ll meet them.

That being said, Dalí, a character reeling from the very personal tragedy of losing their husband, wife, and unborn child in a terrorist attack, is asked to investigate a particularly gnarly case of human trafficking. Dalí is a changeling in this messy universe, which means they are genderfluid and can change whether they present as male or female, including musculature and genitalia. This puts Dalí in a unique position to not only feel the very real impact of terrorism and harmful beliefs on a fundamental level, but also understand the plight of changelings and those of the third gender that are being so ruthlessly acted against. 

Dalí was an amazing character, and I thought they were crafted very well. Flawed, and so emotionally raw (which I absolutely love), Dalí gave me a unique insight into the politics that the book otherwise would have lacked. The fact Dalí is a changeling also gave me some interesting insight into themes touching on gender and identity that I really felt carefully dealt with, and incredibly impactful. More, Hamill doesn’t shy away from the darker impacts of loss, which I truly appreciated. I feel like, all too often, loss in books is portrayed and then a chapter or two later the character sort of just moves on, and that wasn’t the case here. Dalí is raw and reeling, and the emotional upheaval from losing their entire family is felt and felt profoundly throughout the book. 

Politics plays a huge role in Dalí, and there are plenty of shenanigans as well. The idea of genetic purity is not really a new one, and a few of my favorite books play on this theme. In Dalí, the New Puritan Movement is pushing for genetic purity. Humanity is sliding toward extinction (for reasons that are covered in the book), and changelings like Dalí are becoming more and more plentiful. Mixed in with this are personal and political alliances, human trafficking, blatant oppression, terrorism, and more. Then you drop Dalí, a trained ambassador reeling from the loss of everything they love, into the middle of this chaotic stew, and you have quite a book on your hands. 

The plot is pretty breakneck. A lot needs to be covered in 256 pages, so there was no real resting time. And yet, I never really hit that point where I was thinking, “Okay, but how are these people not collapsing from exhaustion?” which I sometimes do when I read books that just don’t slow down. The genius thing here, is while there’s so much going on outside of Dalí, in the wider world, there’s also a lot going on inside of Dalí, and Hamill does an amazing job balancing these two spheres of action. There are quiet moments of reflection, and there is plenty of action as well. The unique balance struck between the two made the book feel like it carried itself well, never really slipping far to one side at the cost of the other.

The characters are all as brilliantly developed as the politics. Hamill puts a lot of care into the characters she presents in her books. Even secondary characters felt fully fleshed out, and the ones I’d categorize as villains felt real as well, with motivations that were understood, if not agreed with. In another way, I’d say her characters and politics balance each other as well as the inside/outside action I mention above. Both the politics and characters are just so brilliantly crafted, with such attention to detail and nuance, they felt real and believable to me. Then, you see how they appear when played against each other, and you realize how truly skilled Hamill is as an author. All of the elements of her story, from setting, to culture, to politics, to strife, trauma, and characters, play off each other perfectly to make this a supremely memorable story. 

Dalí is a book I should have read a while ago. Highlighting heavy themes, such as love, family, loss, human rights, Hamill tells an amazing story. I cannot wait for more. 

5/5 stars