I’m getting near to the end of my read harder list, with this novel covering number 18 on the list: A novel by a trans or non-binary author.
This novel really grew on me, I was mildly entertained by it for about the first 40% and then it just takes off for some reason. Maybe it’s the peril ratcheting up, maybe its the weird and wonderful universe landing, maybe it’s just getting to grips with the array of characters. But basically, if you pick it up and aren’t immediately grabbed by it, maybe just wait it out a bit longer.
The universe is interesting – it’s space faring and advanced technology, but also people have magic, focussed in one particular area. So Nilah, a race car driver is a mechanist, being able to become one with mechanical and computer systems. I really liked this, because imagine having this power before technology, what a bummer! But others can create shields are marksmen or ‘datamancers’ which I particularly loved. Sometimes it does turn into spells and bombs and you just have to go with it, but it’s never overwhelming and completely makes sense when you’re reading it.
The main story is a crew that is forced together, through various circumstances, to hunt for a legendary ship, the Harrow. They’re being chased by a super powerful mage, for some mysterious reason, but connected to the legendary ship. As the story progresses, things become clear and far more dangerous.
I quite liked the clear progression of character development, people change in realistic ways. Some of their rougher edges are smoothed over as they start to trust each other and work together. I do love spike-y dialogue but at some point you want the team to gel and get to solving mystery, which they do in a satisfying way. There is a wonderful amount of women, including Nilah, Boots, Orla, who all have major parts to play in the narrative.
As well, I really enjoyed the unfolding of the overall mystery, and how the magic and technology were fused together. All the different characters’ skills were utilised in different ways throughout the novel, which made the conclusion very satisfying. Sometimes, maybe, a bit too conveniently, but not in a way that detracts from the story. The extreme bits where characters come into their elements are peppered throughout the book, so their action’s don’t seem impossible (though perhaps improbable).
I think my only criticism is that it just does take a while to get into. It’s quite complex world building and I think it just takes awhile for you to care about the characters, especially as some of them are disagreeable in different, minor ways. Once you get into their backstories, you can see why they act the way they do. And then when shit get serious, those things fade away into the background of coming together and surviving.
It was a super fun magic-space-opera, definitely worth a read.