I was really excited for the second book in this series about ai written by a woman author. I love getting to see scifi topics like ai explored from a woman's perspective. So I was a bit disappointed to have the story shift focus from a woman in the first book (Amy) to a man in the second (Javier).
Ripping Amy out from under us is an interesting choice. On the one hand, I appreciate series that switch perspectives like this because we get to see more of the world of the novel and gain a clearer understanding of it. On the other hand, part of why I liked the series to begin with was that we were seeing a powerful female robot for once. So I was skeptical about this choice at first. Ultimately, however, the perspective switch worked for me because it basically is following the hero's sidekick when the hero is decommissioned. It's still interesting to see the gender swap happening in the sidekick. It's also interesting because although Javier is male, he's also a robot with a failsafe, so he is more akin to an enslaved person than to a humanoid free male. It's interesting but it saddens me that this perspective makes it seem like things like trading sex for travel are the only options for people in that situation. Sex is power, yes, but it's not the only tool women have available to them. I'm not sure how I feel about the fact that the book seems to be saying that anyone in that situation, regardless of gender, would use these resources because they have to. I can see not having a lot of choices. And I can understand having to choose to do something you don't morally want to do because the end result is so needed. But I would expect to see a lot of soul searching and thought process behind that choice because it is still a choice. Javier doesn't seem to do much choosing or thinking, and I think that's not a fair representation of what it actually is like to be a woman. We still have choices, and because it's not always easy to do precisely what we want to do, what choice we make takes more thoughtfulness, if anything. There's not always a good choice available. But there are always choices. I would like to have seen Javier doing more thinking and choosing between different difficult choices rather than seeing himself as having to do X to get to Z.
The world building is still strong in this book. Instead of being stuck on an island for the whole time, the events in the beginning of the book allow us to see much of the world, not just America, through the eyes of Javier. There is, unfortunately, quite a bit of confusion in the world at this time so it's difficult to understand precisely what is going on or how the world got to this place. I believe this is just the situation that is typical of a second book in a series (or the third book in the trilogy), so I expect a lot of the confusion to clear up in the third book. If anything the mystery increased with this book, which is not a bad thing.
Overall, this book builds further on the world presented in vN through the eyes of Amy's male sidekick, Javier. Some of the precise effects of the gender swapping and queering of gender in the robots isn't as well thought-out as it could be but this does not detract from the interesting perspective on artificial intelligence presented by Ashby. Fans of the first book should hold out beyond the first couple of chapters and give Javier a chance as our guide through the world. The perspective he brings is still unique to the world of ai scifi.