Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Passage of Stars - Kate Elliot

A Passage of Stars is, at least on the surface, a space opera. Make no mistake, there are spaceships. There are exotic societies. There are daring escapes, and the odd bit of derring do. There is even, at one stage, a pirate. However, A Passage of Stars takes the things that define a space opera, and grabs them, shapes them – it makes changes, it alters expectations. Whilst the traditional space opera is still there, it’s buried under something more interesting – in a text which also wants to talk about relationships, between men, women, non-humans, and indeed entire cultures. About the relationship between people and ideals. The relationship between affection and duty. It approaches these larger themes with sympathy and with care, and in this way becomes something new.

The protagonist of the text is a girl called Lily. She comes to the reader at the start, as a scion in a mining family; one who has no interest in mining, and not much interest in marriage either. Her family lament this – though there is a wonderfully sympathetic scene near the start with her father - and it all goes about as well as you might expect. Shortly thereafter, a person important to Lily disappears, and she takes it upon herself to find them; in this way, she starts a heroes journey which is also an escape, breaking out of the roles that tradition had already defined, and looking to become something else, something that she defines herself.

As a protagonist, Lily is quite believable; impetuous, yes. Affectionate to friends and family.  Strong willed, absolutely. Given that this text was originally written at the start of the nineties, when there was something of a dearth of strong female leads in sci-fi, and given that there still is, in many ways, this is refreshing stuff. As a protagonist, Lily is wonderfully human. She makes decisions, and, on occasion, they don’t turn out well.  She leaps to the aid of friends and family…and sometimes that doesn’t turn out exactly as expected, either. But behind all of these decisions is a logic, an understanding, and a will to act. What the author does is provide this set of decisions with an emotional authenticity which makes Lily an entirely believable protagonist, and one it’s a pleasure to read (that she also excels at unarmed combat, allowing for some excellent fight scenes, is another plus).

The prose is some good stuff, as seems to be standard with Elliot. It’s full of snappy dialogue, wrapped around fight scenes that carry the lean impetuousness of the Matrix, but with a feeling of greater heft behind them. The story never flinches away from hard truths either, and the prose reflects that – largely straightforward, unadorned, but with a feeling of honesty that makes the pages come alive. The broader plot is revealed after Lily begins searching for a missing associate, and I won’t spoil it here, except to say that it’s done very well – there’s a sense of increasing stakes through the narrative, as Lily and her supporting cast move from one crisis to another, with the lulls between wrapped around moments of character.

Overall then, this is a fast paced, well written space opera. It’s also a raw and effective character piece. It has action scenes that seem to leap off the page and kick you in the teeth, and emotional moments that can move the reader to tears. It’s doing a lot of things, and it struggles a little with focus occasionally because of that, but it does manage to do them all well.  With that in mind, I’d say that A Passage of Stars is totally worth your time – I certainly enjoyed it immensely.

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