We learn in elementary school not to judge a book by its cover, but it might be worth it for Jacqueline Koyanagi’s debut novel. The woman on the front looks a bit like Gina Torres if Firefly had merged with Star Wars and it’s completely amazing. What’s inside is a completely entertaining science fiction adventure totally worth of the Gina Torres look-a-like on the front.
Koyanagi’s built an interesting world with all the staples one would expect in a good sci fi. There are spaceships, interplanetary travel and aliens, but also a thoroughly interesting socio-political landscape in which the convergence of science and magic have created a mystical super-corporation capable of economic and social control through emotional and technological manipulation.
In the midst of all this is Alana Quick, a destitute spaceship engineer or sky surgeon trying to make ends meet in her aunt’s repair shop while dealing with a degenerative disease in a world without universal healthcare. She’s a charming character with a unique voice made up of a nice blend of confidence and insecurity. It’s also very refreshing to see a character with a chronic illness that is part of their life but not the defining characteristic of their existence. Instead, Alana is governed by her love of spaceships, specifically a ship called Tangled Axon that lands in her shipyard looking for Alana’s sister Nova. Desperate to get off the planet, Alana stows on board hoping they’ll need an engineer. They allow her to stay in exchange for helping finding Nova and Alana is promptly embroiled in the mess of their lives.
It’s a fun book. The action moves along at a nice pace and Koyanagi has a good sense for when to push the plot and when to let her moments sit. The relationship that blossom between Alana and the crew of Tangled Axon are the glue that holds the story together. It’s also clear that, like many other sci fi and fantasy pieces, Koyanagi’s building a world to tell stories about people who don’t often get to be the heroes. Her dedication to that ideal comes through strongest and what makes this such a lovely little story. We’re presented with a world without much patriarchal or gender-based hierarchy – all the leadership roles in the book are held by women. It’s awesome and highlights what seems like a very intentional lack of masculine presence. One could see a missed opportunity to make something of that difference in leadership, to capitalize on the differences between the story and reality, but it’s treated as completely natural. For the story Koyanagi’s trying to tell, that’s the stronger choice. She gives us world that has already come together to include and showcase the people who are still finding their voices in ours.