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The Dreaming Stars by Tim Pratt, Hidden Sun by Jaine Fenn, The Daughters of Forgotten Light by Sean Grigsby. Book reviews

September 8, 2018

These are three books from Angry Robot. Three books where assertive women in different geographical environments and social systems must make their way within them.

Book cover of the dreaming stars

The Dreaming stars by Tim Pratt

This is the second book in the series. The first introduced the reader to Elena and her crew who were in suspended animation for about five hundred years before encountering Axiom technology. This did not go well resulting in Elena being put back into cryosleep to save her and one of her crewmates, Sebastien, changing to an agent of the Axiom through implanted technology. After being discovered by hardnose salvage crew captain Kalea Machedo (Callie), Elena went with her to discover what had happened to her crew and rescue them.

In the process of The Wrong Stars we learned about a group of aliens called the Liars from whom humans gained a great deal of technology, but at the same time could never be sure of where they were coming from in terms of what might be the truth. A quote from The Dreaming Stars describes a key Liar Callie and her crew met in The Wrong Stars who became an ally and indicates the complexity of Liars culture:

“Lantern had been raised in the cult of truth tellers – Liars who didn’t lie – but the cult itself secretly served the interests of the sleeping Axiom, hiding the existence of their ongoing universe – altering projects from outsiders.”

In this sequel Callie, now Elena’s love interest, has to once again pick her way through both the politics of her slice of space and the now possible threat of the Axiom who could be awakening. Closer to home the implanted Sebastien appears to be hell bent on taking over the universe under the guidance of his Axiom technology.

The Wrong Stars is a good mix of humour and deadly serious, death-inducing situations. What makes it work well are the relationships between the different characters. Although Callie, Elena and Sebastien could be said to be the main protagonists, there is a great supporting cast who all have something to contribute. Lantern is my particular favourite and I would love to know more about Lantern’s life and society from the Liar’s viewpoint.

Callie is a well-imagined female character and Elena’s observation of her really gets to the core of her personality:

“Callie didn’t believe in accepting what she couldn’t change. She’d just change the circumstances until she could change whatever needed changing.”

This also demonstrates Elena is a useful mirror on Callie’s world and an interesting link between past and present.

What ensues is a tense action-packed thriller where everyone, particularly the dynamic and thinking-out-of-the-box Callie, has to somehow stay one step ahead of the technologically advanced Axiom and the type of games they play to conquer every lifeform they meet. The ending is indeed an interesting one.

Hidden sun

Hidden Sun by Jaine Fenn

Rhia Harlyn is a noble shadowkin living in the region where the sun is not always relentless. She has a missing brother who she must travel across the blistering skyland in order to find. Dej is a skykin who will undergo a radical change in her physical and psychological makeup in a ritual which will bond her with an animus and make her immune to the intense skyland sun as well as giving her the knowledge which she needs to keep her alive. This does not go well and Dej becomes one out the outcasts, called the clanless, a group of skykin who have not properly bonded with their animus and therefore rejected by the rest of the skykin population as imperfect, half-skykin.

Rhia is working within a system in which women do not understand science and know their place. Rhia’s constantly inquiring mind, experimentation and observations of the heavens as well as her stubborn determination get her both in and out of many situations. She is a thinker not a fighter who has led a sheltered life. Embarking on the quest to find her brother is more from unalloyed love for him than common sense. Dej is a free-thinker who is forced into a life outside the law.

There is another narrative within this story which comes and goes which is that of Sadakh a priest who is using his position to gather power and conduct some rather unpleasant experiments in order to chase the prize of immortality. Sadakh is a splendidly manipulative and evil-to-the-core villain who you would not want to get on the wrong side of.

But it is Dej’s new and developing perceptions of the Skyland through the inherited knowledge of her imperfect bonding with her animus, which really held my attention and I would have been quite happy to have a much deeper immersion into the fascinating world of the skykin or even spend the entire book there. Brought up in a shadowkin orphanage, like all skykin children, Dej has not had an easy life. It does not get any easier as a skykin outcast. Yet despite being so ill used she has an incredible capacity to care and love wholeheartly.

Each of the three narratives begin in separate locations, but in different ways overlap and join. As the story unwinds, the Machiavellian schemes of Sadakh begin to reveal themselves, with the finale gives a clear sense that the priest is merely warming up for something far more unpleasant and far reaching than anything he has done before. Something that might unleash more than Sadakh had bargained for.

Hidden Sun is a book which offers a believable and intriguing world in which to journey with the characters.

Daughters of forgotten light

Daughters of Forgotten light by Sean Grigsby

As the environment on Earth began to collapse, a sanctuary was built in deep space. But that sanctuary has yet to serve its purpose because it has become the Oubliette, where the unwanted are sent to get them out of the way permanently. It is a place without mercy ruled by gangs all barely held in check by a fragile truce. When a new shipment arrives with a baby the equilibrium begins to shift.

It is clear from the start that this is going to be an well written, action-packed book. The prose is tense and to the point. Right at the start the sense of the world is delivered within a brilliantly crafted paragraph the voice of which also says it all about the lead character:

“That’s one thing they never told Lena Horror about space – how damn dark it is. Her gang sped down the glowing glass streets of Oubliette, but it was only a tease of light, false and too dim for comfort.”

There are three main narrative voices in this novel, Lena, the leader of the Daughters of Forgotten Light, Sarah Pao, who comes in on the same shipment as the baby and is quickly inducted into Lena’s gang to replace a lost comrade, and Senator Linda Dolfuse who has suffered a terrible loss both physically and psychologically in her need to retain her position in a cut-throat political world.

This is a dark, unforgiving world, creating fierce loyalties within the gangs and their fiefdoms made up of the dwellers, those not fortunate enough to be in any of the gangs, and who have become their subjects. The population is made up of unwanted women, as the young men who cannot be kept by their parents are sent off a cannon fodder for the military.

Sarah’s learning curve as a gang member is a useful way for the author to worldbuild without appearing to, as she learns how to ride their bike and how the social structure works. When the peace begins to falter, the tight spots the Daughters get themselves into are written with breathtaking pace.

The parallel story on Earth is no less gripping, given that Senator Dolfuse is caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to maintaining her elevated position in a world where the resources are rapidly diminishing due to the ongoing climate change. Her part of the story revolves around whether she can manage to survive the political wrangling or whether, caught in its turmoil, she will become another candidate for the Oubliette.

All three books were courtesy of Angry Robot via NetGalley.

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