There are two great loves in Mick’s life, and only for one of them would he climb into the vents and ducts and pipes of the Padua. As much as Mick loves Eizen, his lifemate and roommate, it’s Padua’s safety that makes him go to such efforts. Padua is the cephalapod entity that powers the ship through space, and the tunnels and pipes that run through the ship allow her mobility, but are also the greatest danger. There might be a leak. Or some corrosive material leaking into her water. Or, say, a giant mutant rat scrabbling about, eating the electrics and building nests inside the walls.
Several bites and a medical examination later, Mick gets called to the bridge where he sees something that nearly breaks him. A Ship’s Heart, the body of one, floating in space. Alone, cast adrift from her ship, and dead.
As a Mechanique, raised and trained on the planet Mechania, Mick has been raised all his life to care for and bond to a Ship’s Heart. To see the body of one just drifting among the debris breaks his heart. Captain Knight, in a seeming act of mercy, orders Mick to stay behind in a shuttle while he and the rest of the crew — and Padua — head off to take care of their cargo run. They’ll come back, collect Mick and the body, and return them to Mechania for burial.
Mick is torn, but he has no choice. He’s been given an order.
This story is set in the StarStation series, and it is listed as the first book, for all that a conversation near the end of the book hints and Mick and Eizen’s first meeting and some adventure there. I have to say, I didn’t care for Mick. It’s not that he’s a terrible character, but he’s a mix of contradictions and a very strong voice, somewhere between whiny brat and indifferent academic. Every situation — from being bitten by mutant rats to facing space pirates — carries the same weight. Mick’s mind and thoughts are very, very intellectual rather than emotional, which means everyone falling apart around him, or falling over themselves to help him, comes across as more hysterical or overwrought.
Mick’s relationship with Eizen is also a little odd. They’ve been together for an unknown amount of time, and I can’t tell if they’re a years-long couple, or a few days. At times, Mick talks like they’re an old married pair, and at others, he’s misreading Eizen’s emotions so badly, or hiding his own, lying, avoiding, and then worrying about how Eizen will take it, and if Eizen will still love him, which all leads me to wonder if they’ve been together that long at all. Likewise is his bond with Padua, which is mentioned offhand one moment, and then so important Mick can’t breathe without her the next.
Again, I think this is more to Mick’s character than the writing. Emotionally, he’s very distant and, for me, it didn’t gel the way I might have wanted it to. The events that part Mick from Eizen and Padua are overly convenient, but the story that takes place because of the parting is well thought out. The space pirates, the derelict ship, the mysterious young man and the “mother” he talks about … it’s all honestly intriguing, but not very captivating, because Mick keeps all of it at a very clinical distance. I think if I liked Mick more, I’d like this book more.
I do wonder if, because his bond with Padua is based more on emotions, Mick’s learned to control his reactions so that he doesn’t get overly angry, afraid, or worked up — so that she won’t feed off of become upset by his feelings. But that’s just speculation on my part. I do hope that, in future books, more about the Ship’s Hearts will be explained; for example, how and why they bond, how Padua is different, considering how young she is, and how she and Mick grow from their experiences in this book.
The writing is good, the pacing is tight and focused, and the world building is captivating and complex. I am very interested in continuing reading this series. I do suggest, though, that if — like me — you can get easily turned off by an overly voicey character that you download a sample of this book before buying. Even so, I do recommend this story. I did enjoy it, I just wanted to shake Mick a few times here and there.