I can’t remember the last time I read a book that got me with so many ‘Excuse, me, WHAT?’ moments. This is one tricksy author. And she’s put together more than just a well crafted story, it’s a genuinely fun reading experience that has you smiling at your own shock as much as what’s happening on the page. And therein lies the problem for any kind of review, because you really don’t want to be spoiled by any of the specifics before you start. Even more so than usual I mean. This is the kind of novel that extends a welcoming hand, one loaded with the promise of honesty and friendship, when all the while the other grips a knife just out of sight. You think you can imagine what comes next in this scenario….? Not if this author’s writing it. Nope, no way, not a chance. Maybe the whole damn world explodes. Maybe they whip out the blade and carve a wooden statue of your favourite sea creature. WHO KNOWS.
So… I’m going to avoid anything that could give the game away and talk about some of the other stuff that makes this book a damn good time.
At least 5 of the top 10 most awesome things are all Sanda. This MC is brave, capable, funny, inventive, vulnerable, and that perfect level of snarky. I hate falling back on the Ripley thing each time I find an awesome female in space, but that’s the kind of strength she’s channelling here. She takes zero shit, but isn’t one of those characters whose attitude is a shorthand for badassery. It’s her actions, not a big mouth, that show who she really is. The appeal is that she’s so very human, but trying to be the best of version of it she can be. It feels honest and real. Her emotional experiences are right there, making it so very clear why she battles on. Despite being knocked down more times and in more ways than most people could take, she comes back fighting. Every time. And I cheered. Every time. I flat out loved her.
When an author can work creatively with perspective and narrative structure but also give readers characters who can hold all the pieces together, it makes for a thrilling mix. Surprises can come from anywhere, and in this case, they really do. But that’s far from the only positive. High energy action scenes are balanced by quieter moments of emotional reflection, just as the humour holds its own against the tragedy. The past clashes brutally with Sanda’s present, allowing for how-the-hell-we-got-here as much as the-hell-we’re-in-now. Within that space, there’s room for all kinds of voices. Diversity, in particular, is done with such exquisite assuredness that it makes a liar of all those who say it doesn’t work. Notions of personal morality and identity, be it self expressed or imposed, underlie every characterisation, whether human, spaceship, or anything in-between, offering a multifaceted and complicated world with no easy answers. It’s especially evident when it comes to the AI, developed here through the smartship The Light of Berossus (Bero for short). It's a Frankensteinesque story, with all the associated themes. As good sci fi always does, this book asks the big questions: what it means to be human, what it means to live, what it means to be free…. Each individual must work out what really matters to them, what they’re willing to lie about, forgive, fight, or die for, and it’s all set against a backdrop of dystopian inequality, political machinations, and world ending weapons. Most of all though, it’s about family, whether blood or created, and how those bonds can hold strong across space and time.
This is space opera with a high wow factor, full of heart and humour, twisty enough to have you reading sentences twice over, desperate to see if it really said what you thought it did…
It's going to be big. Don't miss it.
Review by Emma Davis
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