Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Space Opera - Catherynne M. Valente

You know what, Space Opera is, at its heart, a hell of a lot of fun. It's a story of glamour, pop, washed up legends, hope, murder, and humanity. But it's also the story of how people have to sing for their lives, what they justify to themselves, aliens, old friendships, galactic wars, and, well, a whole melange of things, blended together into a sci-fi gumbo. With sequins. 

At heart, Space Opera is a hell of a lot of fun. 

But it has soul, too. And much fo that soul is Decibel Jones. 

Decibel Jones is a superstar. In his head. He was, once, for a while. He had a band, and they did drugs and danced and sang like angels or demons, and the money rolled in like the leading edge of a tsunami. But years later, he's someone sat on the edge of the bed, wondering where it all went wrong. Where the money went, where the friends went, why it's so hard to sing any more, when it's so hard to care.  This is a portrait of a washed out, washed up rock star. You can feel the trailing tingle of depression, of self destruction, of someone lost at sea in a haze of past hedonism gone sour. But down in there is a flicker of talent, a flicker of hope, a kind of flicker of humanity that makes us feel like people, and lets us know that we're alive. Decibel Jones may not be happy with where and how and who he is, but he's still there, somehwere, between one drink and the next. 

In a lot of ways, this is his story, the story of one old pop star given the chance to put on their skin-tight leather trousers again, to bring out one more hit so that they can feel alive. But also so they can reach out into the roaring sea of adulation and use it to go inward, to find redemption, of sorts.

Unfortunately for Decible Jones, he has to do that while also singing to save the world. Because humanity is not alone in the universe, and the others looking in want to see the heart of humanity, want ot hear it sing. And they want to hear from Decibel Jones, a person trying to find his own soul, never mind representing that of humanity. So, you know, no pressure. 

The story itself is built around Jonesand his relationshis past and present - with band mates and with the weird and wonderful aliens of the now. The world we know is presented with care and compassion, people shown to be flawed in so many different ways, struggling in so many different ways, but rising up almost despite thmesleves. It contrats wonderfully with the glamour and glitz of a galactic confederation which is at once advanced, and filled with backbiting, politics and moments of genuine bravery and wonder. There's so much to see out there, and so much on the page which is new and exciting and impressive, that I don't want to spoil it. But Eurovision, but with aliens - well, if that doesn't sell you, I don't know what to say. The event, the glamour of it, the stakes, that'll keep you turning pages. The weird aliens and the way they think, the same but also not of us, but also the same again, will amaze and delight you. But the heart and soul, Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes, the band, are hauntingly, brokenly, beautifully human, and this is their story, their stand against a tide, their moment of being fully human.

Which is to say, this is a fun book, and a page turner, and it'll make you laugh, and it might make you cry, because it has some serious thoughts, some serious human moments to slip in between the funny. It's great, and I really want you, yes you, to give this disco-ball gem a whirl.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

The Splinter King - Mike Brooks

I’ve been a fan of Mike Brooks for yonks, ever since his Dark Run brought some punky fun to sci-fi. And I thought his new fantasy series started off rather well, with The Black Coast, a story of family, togetherness, politics, assassination, compassion, magic, and some explosive battles that dovetailed with a strong thread of humanity to make something rather special. 

Happily, the sequel is here. The Splinter King takes a lot of the core themes from its predecessor, and expands on them or enhances their impact. It’s a clever book, with a story whose twists and turns will make you want to keep reading, and whose characters have enough flaws to make them feel human, as you cheer them on through their struggles.

And it’s a book which will show you more of its world, will ask a few more questions, and even provide some answers.

I will say that this is a book with what feels like a lot of point sof view. Fortunately, they all come with their own unique voices, and their various storylines are cool enough and interesting enough that they don’t feel spread too thin. Worry not, folks, because some of our existing friends are back in this book - Saana and Daimon and their struggles at Black Kepe are still here, though they’re not as much of a focus this time around, as the narrative camera pans out for the metaphorical wide angle shot. But they’re still a wonderful portrayal of a couple tied together by necessity, trying to find something in themselves and each other, and trying very hard to do the right thing, dancing a tightrope of obligation, affection and power to shape a community. 

But Darel is here as well, Daimon’s brother, heading to the capital of an empire to plead the case for the people of Black Kepe and their old enemies to be able to live in peace. Darel is perhaps more bookish than his brother, arguably more learned, but equally out of his comfort zone, heading through violent seas toward a thronging capital filled with deadly politics. But he’s amiable and thoughtful as well as brave, and great fun to walk alongside every chapter or two.

The same can be said of Stonejaw, leading the survivors of a raid on Blackkeep, looking for somewhere else to be, and something else to do. Stonejaw is caustic, capable, and taking no crap from anyone.But also very much done with quests and leaders and orders. Maybe she was a bad guy in the last volume, and here isn’t exactly always making the heroic choices - but as someone with limited options, getting out from between a rock and a hard place, she’s easier to sympathise with, and puts a human face on what could have just been a foe without identity. 

There’s also Jeya, and her efforts to keep the survivor of an assasination attempt hidden, in a city that would very much like to see both of them dead. Jeya has a painful shaping to her, someone grown on the streets of fear and pain, but also a  kind of potential, and an honesty of the soul, a purity of affection which makes her great fun to read, as she ducks and weaves and dodges and talks their way into all sorts of trouble.There’s murder and mayhem and daring escapes aplenty, among moments of heartbreaking friendship and genuine love. I’ve got a lot of time for Jeya, and she really gets to shine here.

The same can be said of Tila, sometimes a princess, sometimes the head of a criminal underworld.If Jeya is at street level, Tila is the reverse - moving smoothly in a world of power politics, and occasional violence, with a collected cool that makes you want to cheer her on, even as she does necessary, terrible things. Of course, sometimes those things happen to terrible people, which always helps. And you know when you see her name come up, that something is about to go down. The political machinations of the city are her domain, yes, but it’s her calm, her agency, her refusal to be cowed, her ability to look for surprising solutions, which make her an engaging, compelling character. And she’s going to need to be a ruthless one as well, as there’s plots stacked on plots on...well, more plots, in the Empire her brother runs, and it’s possible not everything will go her way. 

Zhanna is back as well; she was perhaps a bit overshadowed by Saana in the first volume, but here she has more of the focus. Watching her develop from a potential leader into a reluctant, decisive leader, well, that’s a delight. And the mistakes along the way are bloody and epic and heroic - and if I could sing a song of them without spoilers, I would. But for now, I’ll say this: the blood and bone and tears and terrors and deaths and sorrows and victories are here, a microcosm of the world on the page, and Zhanna stands among them, and you just want to cheer her on. 

And then there’s Marin; sometime thief, fulltime bullshit artist, trying to be a good husband. 

I always enjoy watching Marin run his lines on people, trying to do what’s best for his in-group, and ending up in what I’ll call shenanigans. His is another story woven with spoiler tags, but it’s a fast paced, snappy one, filled with some cracking dialouge, and more than its fair share of wry chuckles and “Wait what” moments. 

The whole ensemble are a joy, and between them they cover off a huge amount of geography - from busy city streets to mountain passes, to the monster-infested sea depths, there’s something for everyone here. And it’s described in lavish, loving detail which pains the world into something living and real. You can smell the curling smoke of the woodfire on the breeze, hear the banter of the market, the ring f steel on steel, feel the hot breath of a dragon on your neck. 

And in between is woven a story that made me laugh more than once, wrung my heart more than once, and absolutely, one-hundred percent delivers. It’s got politics, it has best friends, it has stabbings, it has magic, it has war dragons and armies on the march. It has death and love and all of life right there on the pace, but woven together with such a pace, such tension, such gripping sensibility that you will probably, like me, end up turning the pages long ater you should have been asleep. It’s great fun, and a great sequel. Go read it!

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

The Empire's Ruin - Brian Staveley

The Empire’s Ruin is the start of a new fantasy series from Brian Staveley, It’s set in the same world as his Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne series, and the excellent stand-alone, Skullsworn. In fact, it has several familiar faces appear in central roles, along with some we’ve never seen before. It’s probably easiest to pick this book up after reading the others in the sequence, though it has more than enough narrative weight to work as a standalone. 

Anyway. Here we are again. A large part of the book takes place in the delta city we saw in Skullsworn. It’s a polity shaken to its foundations in the aftermath of revolution. An urban environment whose permanence is always in question, as the waters, reeds, and vicious predators of the delta slip in and out of focus. A place where the population is turning on itself in purges and blood, and where struggle is, quite literally, a religion. 

It’s worth calling out Staveley’s evocation of atmosphere here. The city is close, paranoid. Stepping out after dark feels dangerous, not doing so armed is probably lethal. The nights are muggy and close, and everyone is always looking at everyone else for signs of backsliding. This is a people who have set out to define their own identity, but not yet decided what it’ll be. In the meantime, the priests of their long suppressed gods are driving them to frenzy and violence. The city is, essentially, a powderkeg. 

That said, it contrasts beautifully with the delta. The humming claustrophobia of the metropolis is replaced by the lapping of muddy water against the hull of a hand-driven craft. Ten minute south side of the city, you’re probably lost in a sea of identical, head high reeds. Ten minutes after that, you’re probably dead, as one of the many, many predators - poisonous snakes, murderous fish, hungry gods - makes you deeply regret getting on the boat in the first place. The isolation, the tension of constant vigilance, the low thrum of danger are seeping off the page, contrasting with the boiling over pot that is the city on its edge.

But it’s not all familiar ground. I don’t want ot spoil things, but we also get to see a whole new area of the world. A place forbidden. A place filled with a slow and seeping contagion. A place that has been quarantined for, well, ever.And as we explore the unknown with our characters, the true horror of what sits within that area will become clear. Again, Staveley offers a masterclass in narrative tension, mapping the reader’s sense of discovery with those of the characters - and leting the in and out of universe sense of dread build slowly, until turning the page is something done because you need to know, need to see, what’s going to snap. 

And rest assured, this is a richly imagined, beautifully terrifying, strange place we will go. It has its own character, nothing we’ve seen before, but something different. Something often awful, and unspeakably vital. Which is all rather vague - but the book does a fantastic job of its worldbuilding, giving us a strange, terrible, beautiful place where you would never, ever want to go, but which nonetheless has the beauty of an open wound. It’s beautifully realised, and skin-crawlingly real. 

On which note: Gwenna Sharp is back! I’ve always had time for Gwenna, the sharp talking, smart arsed, worryingly competent leader of a Kettral Wing. She’s like a member of the special forces, if they flew on ops using giant birds. Now, though, there’s not many Kettral left, and fewer birds. Now, Gwenna is going to make some unfortunate, albeit perfectly sensible, choices. Now Gwenna is going to crawl into a small dark hole and hope to die. Now Gwenna is going to decide who she is - or not, and become something new. Gwenna has a hard time in this book, but oh, it rings fierce and true. Gwenna is not well, emotionally speaking - and we can watch her slide into depression happenning in front of our eyes. It’s an amazing portrayal of a woman falling down an emotional well, one which rings painfully true. Quite who she’ll be by the end of the story is somethin else, but Staveley shows us the strength of his characterisation in the descent of Gwenna Sharpe; honestly, its surgically accurate and breathtakingly painfully honest reading. 

There’s others of course.Priests turned involuntary gladiators in the delta arena. A man chosen by the delta gods to be a killer, their killer, struggling with his heart, his faith, and his sense of self. An Admiral who is an utter arse, but has a sense of duty like a rod of iron. Young legionnaires, following Gwenna Sharpe with too much pride and concern, but not enough fear. A shin monk, setting out to run a con on the leader of the Empire (that whole thread is smart and funny and painful, and comes in such a different voice to the others, it;s a breath of fresh air).So many more, some of whom I can’t speak of for the sale of spoiling things. But in any case, the character-work is first rate. These are living, breathing people, and you’ll laugh and quail and love with them, celebrate their triumphs and mourn their deaths.

The story...well, I’ll say this. It’s epic. All three strands of the story - the con, the exploration, the delta - feel different. And examine different things. But they slowly intertwine into a larger creative structure, a cathartic ending that makes you sit up and take notice. And in the meanwhile, each story makes us care about our characters, puts them into this beautiful, horrible world with each of these fragile, breaking, pressured, loving, killing, gentle, vicious people. And the story shifts up a notch and tells us what happens, and what happens next, and it;s tense and fast paced and snappy and a joy to read. 

In the end, this is a damn fun, damn fine story, one which I highly recommend.


Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Past Is Red - Catherynne M. Valente


The Past Is Red is a new novel from Catherynne M. Valente, who has a penchant for producing clever, thoughtful stories, with strong messages, human characters, and the sort of prose that makes you sit up and take notice. I’m happy to report that this tendency continues here. The Past Is Red is a rather good book, and a damn fine story.

Before I delve into it any more though, it’s worth noting that a portion of it has turned up as a novella before, in Strahan’s Drowned Worlds collection, and more recently, as the standalone The Future is Blue.  So if you get an odd sense of deja-vu for the first section of the book, don’t worry, you’re not alone. That said, even as a re-read, the first section is an enjoyable and incisive commentary on climate change, on humanity, and the choices that we make on a personal and systemic level – and it pairs beautifully with the rest of the text, making something new, and greater than when read on its own.

This is a quiet story, and a story that speaks truth. It’s the story of a young woman, who lives on an island made of garbage. That’s humanity now. Scattered enclaves on a blue marble, living in the detritus of a civilisation which has literally sunk without trace. Every scattered, broken doll, every pill bottle, every broken CD player has its place, as a means of exchange, as a trinket, as a totem, as a home. It’s a world built on the ruins of what we have built, and a world built on the traceless remains of what we destroyed. Modernity is known simply as “The Fuckwits”, and if the people of the garbage heap are sometimes violent, sometimes cruel, they are still a people of love and generosity as well. And a people of betrayal, and old hatreds, yes. People. And this is the future, on a soundless ball of blue, scrabbling in what’s left.

And of course, some of them hate it. Some of them look at what was and what they live within, and live a dream of hope, of something else, of difference. Of land. And then there’s Tetley, our protagonist. Tetley knows that what there is, is all there is. She knows that the people of garbage island are there to stay. She knows that this is all there is. And she loves it, and is fierce in her affection, and passionate acceptance that this is all there is.  Tetley is passionate and fierce and young. Tetley is kind and generous and in love. And Tetley is true to herself. As a character, she is pitch perfect. A person shaped by pressures that we cannot know, in an environment we can barely comprehend, but recognisably a person, doing their fragile best in an often hostile world. You can see Tetley, feel her conviction and her tracery of pain and the sheer joy that burns through her. She’s strange and wonderful and human.

As are those around her, those guttering flames of humanity standing in a world surrounded by lapping waves. They’re everything we are, shaped by what we do. They are our grandchildren and our future, and the indictment cast back upon us by all of them, from  the most sympathetic to the least, is searing. There is power in these words, in what they say and the quiet spaces in between. Tetley is the future, and the past is us, the past is red.

I don’t want to spoil the plot, though I will note that the second part occurs some time after the first. Tetley the girl is replaced by someone more weary, more contained perhaps, but with that humanity, that potential to reach for anything and also to be satisfied with who and what she is, that makes this such a wonderful character piece. Because that’s what we have here, a woman traversing her world, and making choices that leave her true to herself. And sometimes those choices may change the world, for her, or for everyone else.

In any case, this is a beautifully crafted story, and one which sat with me for days afterward, as I mulled on Tetley and her rights and wrongs. It’s a warning and a truth and a call to humanity to be people. It’s a good book, and a damn fine story, and you should read it.



Wednesday, June 23, 2021

A Psalm for the Wild-Built - Becky Chambers

Psalm for the Wild-Built is the start of something new from Becky Chambers. Chambers Wayfarers series is one I’ve evangelised about here before, so I was very excited to see what she was doing next. And you know what, it really is something different. There’s still that undercurrent of warmth and charm and a hint of steel wrapped around the core of the story, but this isn’t a Wayfarers story. It’s something of its own, which, under the circumstances, is how it should be. 

On a less lyrical note, more logistical note, it’s novella length, and currently listed as Monk and Robot #1, so presumably the start of a new series. Either of those things may feel like a dealbreaker to you. I urge you not to give in to that feeling. Because Psalm is a story which I was left thinking about for days afterward. Because Psalm is a thoughtful, compelling examination of humanity, and things other than humanity. Because Psalm is a funny, warm, human story, and the non-human bits may be the most human of all of it. Because Psalm is a sci-fi story without space rockets and rayguns, but with lingering questions, with doubts, with happiness and some passion to guide your narrative way. It’s 150 pages, but those pages have so much packed in, that like a gourmet meal, you won’t notice until you reach the end. And then, much like a gourmet meal, you’ll be desperate to have some more. The story, incidentally, works as a standalone, though I for one will be looking for sequels. 

So now that I’ve rhapsodized about the flavour of the story, and the way that it made me feel, I suppose I should talk a little about what it is. It’s the story of a person, and a robot. And while that’s almost as much as I can’s the core of the thing. Sibling Dex is the person. They decide to get away from their life. To become a monk, of gods clearly well known, though alluded to mostly in passing. To do something good, to be something better than they are. 

They’re looking for something. For passion, for purpose, for life. I think we all feel a bit like Sibling Dex sometimes. Someone who steps off the edge of a cliff because they might learn to fly on the way down. Someone with enough courage in their convictions to go that little further out on a limb. Someone stubborn enough to press on when something is a bad idea, and stubborn enough to see it through to becoming a good one.

 I like Dex. They’re smart, with a voice that has an edge of youth to it, but with a robust central core. A person deciding who they want to be and what they want to do. Sometimes making foolish decision whole they do it, but walking the path nonetheless. Actually, maybe we all need a little more Sibling Dex in our makeup.

And Dex walks their path in a world that is our own but not. Where fractured memories of what once was lurk at the corners of the mind. This is a slower world, a world that has not forgotten factories and luxuries and mass production, but a world more careful in what it applies and where. A world where people have survived seeming catastrophe, and now stand on the other side, trying to be something better. It’s a world of dark forests with roots breaking through concrete ruins, and a world filled with life and love and laughter. Dex’s restless energy doesn’t quite fit here, and neither, it must be said, do robots. But both are part of the world anyway

I am biting my tongue not to say any more. Because Sibling Dex will find herself in discussion with a robot, a person made of metal and parts. And that relationship is a multifaceted gem. Both people involved, in their discussion of who and what they are, what they want and need, and why - both of them are learning, and we’re learning with them. Both are, I think, trying to define themselves more. And while Dex may not be a leader or a politician, they are a person, filled with the struggles of humanity, its vices and virtues, its stubbornness and kindness. They are people, and the robot is looking for people. 

And the perspective of the robot is another thing. It isn’t entirely alien, but this is a wonderful portrayal of something which is almost but not quite human. Sentient, but other. It tries to learn and understand and grow and decide what to do and then do it. But it challenges Dex’s assumptions, and ours too, at every turn, tweaking her understanding of the underpinnings of her world. Though to be fair, on that front, Dex gives as good as they get. 

This is the story of a robot and a human. A story of two people, walking to an uncertain destination, for uncertain reasons, but doing it together. This is a clever story, a smart story, a story which quietly touches on big questions, while keeping us enthralled in the gentle, genuine drama on the page. 

In essence, what I mean is, Becky Chambers has done it again. You’ll want to read this one all at once, under the covers at night with a flashlight. This, this right here is the good stuff. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Into The Drowning Deep - Mira Grant


Into The Drowning Deep is the first in Mira Grant’s “Rolling in the Deep” series. It’s a blend of cryptozoology, slow-burn tension, and sudden, brutal, bloody violence. Because in the deep, you see, there are monsters. 

The monsters make their presence known early, when a ship filming a reality-show-slash-documentary for a B-list horror channel is found floating in the middle of nowhere. Video footage shows monsters crawling up the hull, and devouring the crew.The footage is by turns ignored, dismissed as a hoax, or believed, by cranks and zealots. Whatever left the crew of the ship a bloody ruin, dubbed “mermaids”, occupies a liminal space between belief and indifference. People, as a whole, have other problems. 

And decades later, people, in the specific, are ready to go hunting monsters. They’re a motley crew, hired on by the same entertainment firm that funded the first, disastrous expedition. They include a cryptozoologist, sister to one of the murdered film crew, a zealot scientist, proselytising that whatever lives in the deep is both real and hungry, her husband, a corporate stooge with a past (and an agenda), and an entertainment presenter trying to actually do some decent work. They’re surrounded by a larger crew, who range from seasoned professionals to a couple driven by the lust of the hunt, and the promise of monsters on their wall. It’s a diverse band, and though only the central few get enough time on the page to truly breathe, still, the remainder are far more than ciphers, given enough of a splash to make them memorable.  And the core cast range from endearing to icy, through inscrutable and back again. They’re alive, people dealing with loss and pain and friendship and love, and..occasionally, seeing people get eaten.

The book does a great job of making you care about these people. After the initial shock, it settles into the simmering burn of tension, building them up, showing you each as a living, breathing individual. And ito shows you the small and large mistakes, the hubris, the need for closure, the humanity that leads toward something happening again.  As scientists work on a cruise that feels like a holiday, laying out equipment to study climate change, with no expectation of finding legends and myth, we know that a splash of carmine on the deck is only pages away. As the protective measures that should keep them safe are left idle, as the security team are shown to be more actor than brute squad, again and again we see the best and worst of humanity. And the rising sense of dread, of the unseen creeping ever closer, of the scaled hand cresting the rail beneath unknowing eyes - it turns the screw on the reader.

And when it comes to it, the tension is worth it. There’s a sense of the fragility and truth of humanity. That people are what we are, beneath our foibles. The good and the bad is on display, between the lethal conflict, the scrambles through the dark, through the forbidding deep. What comes as it all boils over into madness is believable, and in its way, beautiful. It speaks for the people, and the monsters, even as it approaches their reality unflinching. 

Now saying that, the end suggests there’s more to come, and i look forward to it;the gaps o the denouement feel ready to be plugged, though right now they seem like a slow leak.But that’s a chary complaint, for a story which caught me up like a fishhook and pulled me through its pages like a riptide. It’s a lot of fun, this story, and I think, if you’re in the mood for monsters, for darkness and hubris and horror, you’ll enjoy this.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Artifact Space - Miles Cameron

I’m going to be straight up on this one: I loved Artifact Space, Miles Cameron’s first foray into space opera. It has all the things I want in a book like that, including: cool technologies, a heroine we can empathise with, cheer on and feel for, and a complex universe filled with strange technologies and even stranger cultures.It also has a soupcon of the naval novel about it: stern chases, broadsides, underdogs rising through the ranks, dashing heroics, that sort of thing. Above all, it’s a fun book. It’s got a story that keeps you turning the pages, trying to figure out what’s going to happen next, and characters who make you care about the story, because they’re living it.

I’ll start as I mean to go on: this is a thoroughly entertaining space adventure, and one which left me eagerly awaiting its next instalment.

Part of the reason for that, is the universe. A universe where interstellar travel is real, and where long distance travel necessitates a larger ship Where a handful of arks, humanity’s trade fleet, sail the deep black, their crews together for years at a time, families under a tight naval tradition. It’s a universe of the mercantile, where one versatile, but alien, product, drives the engine of the economy. Where bones of dead cultures litter the graveyards of humanity’s resurgence, stepping over the shoulders of deceased alien giants. This is a universe with old, hidden grudges, where humanity is taking its place upon a broader stage, not yet unblinkered enough from its own expansion to see the dangers lurking around the edges of their still pool.

In many ways, it’s a neo-feudal world, too. Great families, with concessions based on alien technology, revel in untrammelled wealth and near-unbridled power. They buy, or expect, or influence their way onto the great ships that travel the gulf between populated stars, and in that work they learn, trade, make connections, and get very, very rich. Perhaps the common person crews the ships, but the families whose wealth shapes stellar politics, they practically own the ships. Still, there’s a sense of dependence and decay about it too, of wealth flowing in too quickly to be spent, but of a lack of innovation, a lack of need to do something different. The human polity may not be stagnant, but it may be constrained.

In any case, from the carmine-spotted floors of a service orphanage, to the simulated mind of a ship AI, to the darkness between the stars, to the ruins of alien worlds, and the rising of humanity around them, this is a universe of breathtaking scope. It’s detailed, vividly imagined, and beautifully crafted.

Marca Nbaro is the orphaned scion of one of the great families, now somewhat down on her luck. She’s a woman desparate to serve on one of the Greatships, to fall into the quiet family of the service, to do something better than slaving away in an orphanage - and never look back.

Marca is great. She’s fiery, wary of friendship and intimacy, careful with her trust - and at the same time, keen to be surprised. She believes everyone is basically awful, but wants to know otherwise. And watching her slowly come around to her crew, her bunkmates, her superiors and otherwise - well, it’s quite a journey, and a compellingly human one. Marca also serves as an excellent lens for the reader: she’s read about the Greatships, but never been on one, so her stumbling efforts to fit in, to be worth something, to understand, mirror the reader’s own steps in the world. It helps that Marca is genuine, forthright, and accepting of her own flaws; in a world that needs a heroine, she’s doing pretty well. Smart, competent, and driven, Marca is a fantastic protagonist, whose rich emotional life (often filled with expletives and concern about doing something wrong, and sometimes rather more positive) is an absolute joy on the page. Marca is someone I’m not going to forget in a hurry - and her friends, enemies, and something-in-between’s, are similar. Each has enough layers and complexity that we know them as a person, we invest in them, we care. Cameron has always written multifaceted, compelling characters, and that’s definitely the case here. I hope you love Marca as much as I did - she kicks arse.

The story I shan’t spoil, but it’s one part coming of age, one part conspiracy, one part space naval adventure, and absolutely all awesome. There’s aliens and space battles and ancient mysteries and secret cabals. There’s new worlds and romance and space fighters. There’s broadsides and submarine-sneaks, and double-crosses and power politics. There’s a larger picture that slowly comes into focus, and intimate, human moments that make you gask with their emotional intensity.

Overall...yeah, go pick this one up.