I had heard a lot of great things about this book and the author in the buildup to its February 2017 release date. As a stand-alone novel, something of a rarity for me to find these days, I was able to squeeze it in for a bit of variety amongst the two series I am currently juggling.
Since a large part of the book’s plot involves keeping both the characters and the reader in the dark, I am going to be purposefully brief here. The novel takes place within a cluster of living worldships, called the Legion, populated entirely by women. These worlds, once majestic, self-contained host organisms are now diseased and dying shells of their former glory, prompting desperate battles over resources and scavenger rights. The story unfolds through the perspective of two characters inhabiting one of the more powerful worlds. We meet the first of these characters, Zan, as she wakes up in a hospital room. She is the sole survivor of an attack on another worldship and has lost all memory of her past; an event made even more troubling with the revelation that this is not her first time in this situation. Among those attending her is Jayd, the other main character, who tells Zan she is her sister. It is apparent, however, that this may not be true in the literal sense as Zan can’t shake the feeling that something is very wrong with her surroundings and that she has a past with Jayd far deeper than what she is being told. What follows is her struggle to make sense of her surroundings and cope with her loss of identify.
This was an intense and occasionally uncomfortable read. For most of the book the backgrounds and motivations of the characters are an enigma. We have one side Zan, who is haunted by things she cannot remember and on the other Jayd, who is so traumatized and guilt-ridden by the past that she can barely recount it to herself, nevermind to Zan or the reader. Between Zan’s struggle to reconcile her current self with a past she may despise and Jayd’s numb determination to see through her plan at all costs, both characters struggle mightily for reasons that are hinted at but largely unknown for most of the story. This not knowing makes watching the two characters make a continuous series of brutal decisions and discoveries that much more difficult and imparts a sense of foreboding over the entire novel. Compounding this feeling was the eerie and bizarrely alien world these they inhabit. There are constant reminders that their home is itself a creature that lives, bleeds, and makes use (through thankfully unspecified means) of its entirely female population to birth replacements parts and organs. A lot of the other background objects were organic as well, which I found just a bit creepy – in particular the tables made from human skin and a shuttle that purrs with contentment and stares at Zan with huge eyes while she repairs its broken fuel tube.
Despite all its strangeness and the occasional brutally graphic scene, I really enjoyed this book. In fact, it is probably one of the best new novels I have read since I started this blog. There was a part early on (at the recyclers) where I did almost put the book down, but decided I liked everything else enough to keep on going. I am certainly happy I did as I was rewarded with an excellent story that for all its distressing, strange, and depressing moments managed to have a stubborn sense of determination and guarded optimism as well. The slow reveal of what was going on played out nicely, though I think it was Zan’s journey through the ship in middle of the story that stole the show for me. It was really interesting to travel among the less privileged people living in the lower levels, a trip that often reminded me of Dante’s Inferno. This book definitely got me interested in reading more from this author, so don’t be surprised if you see more of her works turn up here sooner or later.