Melin doesn’t want to be a war hero. She is trotted out for photo-ops, given medals and banquets and expected to smile and wave and pretend that the horrors of the Redelki Wars, that the things she was made to do, that the things she endured — the captivity, the torture, the death of her friends and fellow soldiers — are over. There’s peace, now, and all the Intergalactic Association of Sentient Species (IASS) wants from Melin is for her to be a happy and obedient celebrity.
For everyone else, it’s been nearly twenty years. For Melin, it’s been two. She’s still getting used to the new hand, the burn scars and injuries have been covered with lovely fresh new skin, and even her internal organs are recovering. She’ll never again wear an implant, the ubiquitous device every person in the IASS wears to connect them to everyone and everything else. She lost hers on the War Witch, as she lost so much else.
Melin’s escape pod was found by random chance and luck, drifting out in space. For seventeen years, she’s been in cryosleep, dreaming (which is supposed to be impossible) of Satura, the planet of her great-grandmother’s stories. She dreams of warriors with swords, kings and queens, dragons and unicorns and centaurs — all of which are impossible, little more than fairytales told to a wide-eyed child. And yet, when given a chance for a new start, Melin decides to finally go to Satura, a world of magic and wonder, of a palace the color of roses, of towers rising up hundreds of stories, of a sparkling ocean and sprawling rose gardens …
… and arrives to a world on the precipice of war.
I loved this book. The rest of this review will end up being a long meandering of my thoughts, which will all end up with the same four words: I loved this book. It involves a character, Melin, who has been through hell — and it’s never laid out what she endured or for how long. We know there was a galactic war, we know she was involved, we know she was captured and hurt, but all of this is given out crumb by crumb. Instead of telling us about Melin’s pain, we see it in her every action. How she avoids crowds, how she relies on routine and carving out quiet spaces for herself. How she struggles to avoid being given any responsibility or making any friends … and for the one person she does start to open up to, an old quartermaster who understands some of the emotional trauma Melin is coping with, she runs through danger to get to her side.
There is a large emphasis on structure, on the chain of command, on paperwork and organization and understanding how and why things work, shown through the watchful and cynical eyes of a soldier perfectly poised between grunt and command. I never thought a discussion over paperwork for two lost canteens would be so amusing, but it was, delivered with perfect dry timing. The feel of living in a protected bubble, surrounded by armed guards, lock downs, and the constant threat of attack adds an extra taste of claustrophobia to Melin’s need for independence and control. Her efforts to get to know more about her great-grandmother’s world are restricted and hampered at every turn by well meaning people who see the planet and people as an obstacle to their control … and from an occupied people fighting for their very homes and lives.
And then there’s the world building, the subtle foreshadowing that the reader can see even if (and especially if) Melin can’t. Or won’t. You can really feel the experience of the author in this book who served in the Marines. It’s the small things, the casual throw away comments, as well as the details Melin focuses on, noting weapons and armor, noting position and preparedness of the men and women around her in an almost unconscious way. The PTSD, the depression, the anxiety all bleed through — and so does the curiosity, the grim determination to live and live and live and not give up. The way Melin agrees to help, if only to learn more about the people of the planet, as well as the well-trained need to obey the chain of command.
The writing can be a bit stiff and repetitive in parts, and this story ends in a cliffhanger. This first book also focuses greatly on showing us the difference between the two sides of the conflict, the IASS embassy and the Satura people and their own culture. (I also love the nod to linguistic changes as the Saturan Melin speaks, taught to her by her great-grandmother, is a dialect 200 years old. Language grows as much as people, and Melin’s difficulty learning to speak the more day-to-day Saturan was just … a wonderful touch, for me.) This is the first book in the Satura Trilogy and I can’t wait for the second.
As I said before, I loved this book. If you like military sci-fi, slice of life stories and complex characters who think they’re morally gray, but are too honest with their own morality to be anything but white, and the start of what feels like an epic adventure, give this book a try. I cannot stress enough how much I really, really loved this book.