Travel Documents 85: When You Had Power

When You Had Power (Nothing is Promised 1)

Susan Kaye Quinn 

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Genre: Near Future, Adventure, Hopepunk, social justice, ecological justice

The Dust Cover Copy


For better, for worse. In sickness and in health.
It’s a legal vow of care for families in 2050, a world beset by waves of climate-driven plagues.

Power engineer Lucía Ramirez long ago lost her family to one—she’d give anything to take that vow. The Power Islands give humanity a fighting chance, but tending kelp farms and solar lilies is a lonely job. The housing AI found her a family match, saying she should fit right in with the Senegalese retraining expert who’s a force of nature, the ex-Pandemic Corps cook with his own cozy channel, and even the writer who insists everything is stories, all the way down. This family of literal and metaphorical refugees could be the shelter she’s seeking from her own personal storm.

She needs this one to work.

Then an unscheduled power outage and a missing turtle-bot crack open a mystery. Something isn’t right on Power Island One, but every step she takes to solve it, someone else gets there first—and they’re determined to make her unsee what she’s seen. Lucía is an engineer, not a detective, but fixing this problem might cost her the one thing she truly needs: a home.

When You Had Power is the first of four tightly-connected novels in a new hopepunk series. It’s about our future, how society will shift and flex like a solar lily in the storms of our own making, and how breaks in the social fabric have to be expected, tended to, and healed. Because we’re in this together, now more than ever before.

The Scene

World building

Absolutely believable and completely immersive, this story grabs you from page one. The societal, structural and environmental changes are introduced so seamlessly that they feel like a new normal, but man, what a normal. Melting permafrost releasing ancient pathogens, and Covid-like pandemics are the new normal. To enter a new house, Lucía Ramirez steps through a clear protective bubble and endures a decontamination spray on the doorstep. If that doesn’t frame the situation, I don’t know what would.

But in spite of these grim challenges, what I love is the new mindset in these stories. There is a strong communal bond in the setting, a sense of mutual aid and mutual responsibility. There’s a sense of ‘we’re all in it together’ that I really hope we reach in the future. There’s a deeper, more meaningful connection and the kind of work ethic that builds people up rather than destroying them. Acting outside of that is seen as an aberration and a danger, not as ‘a businessman’ or  ‘a tough guy’.
Acting as a backdrop are well-researched evolutions of entertainment, house-design, grid design and overall energy economics that can power a country without destroying the world. Tons of possible, realistic energy-production tech is discussed, from rotors that turn ocean currents into energy to gigantic floating lilly pads that produce solar energy. This world is a new way to imagine the future: not easy, but full of opportunity and rebuilding. We need more of that.

The Crowd


Into this fascinating world come fascinating characters. Let’s start with Lucía. You have to love this girl. A young professional trying to make things work for the better, she is a protagonist who neatly sidesteps all the Your Hero tropes. She is not a lone crusader; she is alone in a new place, and she does have pain in her past. But she has a big, loving family that’s just a phone call away and always there for her. She has a tenuous new communal bond she’s working on strengthening. She is not alone. And seeing protagonists embedded in matrices of support and mutual care is a great change in storytelling style.

Around her is a solid, well-created chosen family: the heads of the home, Wicket and Jex, a couple of guys married and deeply in love. The household co-op they’ve built around themselves, sharing a home and household duties with people they’ve brought together in a structure that is the new normal. I could see living in a family like this. In the center of it is Lucía, finding out if she’s going to fit into her new home.
The only area of slightly weak characterization is in the antagonists. I would have liked to have seen a bit more here; as they stand now, the characters causing Lucía trouble at her work and undermining her sense of wellbeing run the gamut from Enigmatic Threat to Snake In The Grass. But this is the first book of a series, and there’s plenty of time for them to be fleshed out.

The Lingo

Writing Style

With the very slight stumbles of a new author, this story moves along at a steady clip, with good first-person energy and a lot of drive. Lucía’s pride in her work and her family history, the drive she has to make things work, and her mix of hope and trepidation keep the stakes high through the story, nicely leavened by her interactions with her new family. She sometimes veers a little too far into her insecurities and withdraws from others before they can hurt her, and that is such a human thing to read that it breaks your heart. But the spirit of this work shines through, and that is great to see. The fact that all the technical details are woven in deftly and without a hint of info-dump is just the cherry on the cake.

The Moves


In structure this is a classic Tale of Intrigue, but that main plot is nicely balanced by the subplots of community, connection and budding romance.

Overall Rating

A wonderful story that I can’t wait to read the next installment of. If you want to raise your spirits, give it a read!