Author: MCA Hogarth
Genre: Science Fiction, Action
Rating: ★★★☆☆ || 2.5 stars
Reese Eddings is down on her luck. Actually, Reese Eddings has been down on her luck for the last few years. Actually, Reese Eddings has a hard time keeping her ship, the Earthrise, afloat, and her crew, sparse as it is, haven’t been paid in months.
So when an old benefactor calls in a favour, Reese has no choice but to comply, embarking on a rescue mission for a captured Eldritch spy, Hirianthial (think Legolas but paler). But what was supposed to be a simple rescue mission gets Reese involved with pirates, the drug trade, and spywork, none of which is good for her stress, her grumpiness, or her ulcer.
I wasn’t sure I’d like this book at first; I have a well-documented aversion to hard sci-fi, and while this was more space opera, it still had more than enough sci-fi trope-y things to immediately turn me off: humanoid alien species, impossible to pronounce names (guess how long I had to work at it before “Hirianthial” flowed off the tongue), space racism, the disjointed digressions into worldbuilding that never felt like more than the author dragging me around by the arm and lugging me through a world that didn’t feel organic.
It took until the last 35% of the book for me to become invested enough that I wanted to know what was going to happen, but even then it took me way longer than it should have to finish this novel. Still, I did warm to it. Reese, even if her grumpiness was way over the top and way less cute than it would have been if she’d admitted that she was being petulant way earlier than she did, is my favourite kind of heroine: she’s grumpy and she complains a lot and is a romance novel aficionado, but you know deep down she’s a good person who cares too much and is keeping her feelings buried deep. Hirianthial had a suitably angsty and mysterious past, and though you get the feeling that they will probably end up being in a relationship later in the series, their relationship never got in the way of the plot.
What did get in the way of the plot was the fact that about half the novel is spent in digressions, whether it’s a digression from the thread of the narrative (which felt all over the place, and it definitely could have been better organised and more concentrated and concise), or a digression in the actual text of the narrative to talk about the worldbuilding. A lot of things are told rather than shown, and so their impact was much milder than it should have been, and certain themes were introduced that never really wrapped themselves up, though this may simply be a result of this being the first novel in a series.
There were also a few things that felt kind of Off to me about this novel’s racial & sexual politics:
- Reese is the product of a long line of women who conceived through sperm donations, and while she is free to think (as she does) that she wants romance in her life and not simply to pick out someone from a catalogue, the way that it’s framed was curious, almost in that ‘your life is not whole unless there is a man in it’ kind of way. A lot of this can be rationalised quite easily within the context of Reese’s life, but Reese’s life is existing in the context of our society, so that that read pretty uncomfortably for me.
- It’s repeatedly stressed that Reese has blue eyes. This isn’t a situation as with Ling from The Diviners and Park from Eleanor & Park where their eyes are the result of a single white parent; it’s quite feasible that the sperm donors were a diverse bunch and it was just a recessive gene that showed up, but again, there are certain modern politics regarding the way we treat black hair and black eyes as normal, as boring, even as ugly, that play themselves out in my mind whenever I encounter a character who has dark hair and dark skin but light eyes. It’s not to say that light eyes are impossible among both monoracial and multiracial brown people, but given that most brown people have dark eyes and dark hair, and given that it’s repeatedly reinforced that only light eyes are beautiful or special, and given how often brown characters are given light eyes in fiction to differentiate them From the Rest of Us, it does raise my hackles.
- There is one particular planet that the crew of the Earthrise spend time on that makes me raise my eyebrow, because in particular it seemed to evoke certain stereotypes about the MENA nations; I’m not West Asian so I can’t say for sure, but the home of the Harat-Shar and the characterisation of the Harat-Shar were really reminiscent of certain Orientalist portrayals of West Asians
I wanted to cut this novel so much slack because how often do you see a Black heroine (specifically one that’s framed as wanting romance, that is a romantic) as the main character of a science fiction novel? Yet even so, the novel was merely middling, though I likely will pick up the second novel to read in the future. The way Reese was described by her white author was sometimes a little off-putting (I’m so over food comparisons), and I felt like her relationship with Hirianthial had no stakes, but I will credit the novel with having a great sense of space (um, both in the Vast Expansiveness of the Universe type way and in the academic This is the Space™ We Occupy type way) and an inventiveness to its alien species (though the alien incest was…weird…).
Overall, this wasn’t a bad way to spend the better part of a week, and those who enjoy science fiction and space operas may enjoy this novel, and even if you don’t the novel is quite cheap (as of time of writing it’s free) on Amazon, so it’s not too big a loss if you end up disliking it, or feeling lukewarm towards it as I did.