Isolation is a prequel novella in Dan Well's Partials series. Although it is technically a prequel and can be read alone, I still recommend reading it after the first book, Partials, because there is a bit of jargon, but more importantly, it's clearly a supplement to the series and it's just not very strong story by itself. The story is from the point of view of Heron, an assassin Partial created to infiltrate Chinese headquarters.
I admit I might be a bit biased since this novella is set in China, and me being Chinese is especially keen to how my culture is depicted, especially when they are supposed to be the "enemy." Which brings me to this:
Why Do All The Chinese People Have Awkward Dialogue That Sounds Like Poor Movie Subtitles?
I am not sure if this is intentional to emphasize the foreign nature of Chinese, but I couldn't help catching that all Chinese dialogue sounded forced, unfitting for the rough, ruthless, army men I imagined the characters to be.
For example, in one scene the Chinese general says, "A decisive blow...could destroy them utterly...Then we must flee in the Rotors."
Even I don't even use "utterly" or "flee" in colloquial language.
The Chinese names were also inaccurately romanized. There are no "Do" or "Po" sounds. But then maybe I'm asking for too much. All the Chinese names were ridiculous that I almost burst out laughing.
Chinese Men Are Also Stereotypical Misogynists
I have no idea why this story is set in 2060, yet it seems like China has moved backwards in gender equality. I admit that in rural China, males are valued more than females, but in Isolation, the Chinese men detest women.
Blast all devils to hell, and devil women to the deepest part of it.
Yes, the Chinese also call their enemies "devils," which seems to portray them as superstitious fools more than using the term as a derogatory term. Never mind that their dialogue sounds like something from a bad video game trying desperately to sound epic. *sigh*
To be fair, the Americans don't sound like great people either. Basically, the purpose of the Isolation War is unveiled, which turns out to just be greedy people who want to wage war for resources. China holds these precious resources, but have turned themselves into North Korea, where they've isolated themselves from international trade. And Americans, being power-hungry, have to wreck havoc until they get what they want.
The Perspective of a Partial:
The main attraction of this novella is to give readers background information about Partials, how they are formed, and the way they think. These herons are built to be soldiers, cold, unfeeling creatures built to follow orders. Heron isn't a hero because she wants to, but because she is following orders...and because she is angry. So Partials don't give a damn about anyone, or even their own and will do destructive things out of anger--which makes me question why would her creators take away empathy but leave "anger." I fear that Dan Wells has defaulted back to the sociopaths he has written many times before. *points to John Cleaver*
In the end we have a novel filled to the brim with a bunch of unlikable people and a messy plot that's supposed to be action-packed and filled with brilliant military strategy, but left me confused half the time. Perhaps if it was a movie, it would've worked better--I could imagine Heron as Anne Hathaway's Cat Woman from Dark Knight Rises (especially the scene where she pretends to be helpless.) But while I appreciated the action and the backstory, I couldn't relate to any of the characters to be invested in the story. The stereotypical portrayal of Chinese and Americans left me wincing till the end. As a fan of Partials, I am disappointed. Even 75 pages felt too long.