flotsam coverRating: 4.5 stars
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Length: Novel


Talis’ ship is falling apart. One third of her crew is thinking of leaving. No one was paid for the last mission, but Talis has a plan to fix all that. As captain of the airship Wind Sabre, it’s up to her to have an answer to every question, a solution for every problem, and a new job every time the money runs short. And this time the job is simple, but the payout is huge. All they have to do is search some wreckage in the flotsam layer orbiting the fractured world of Peridot and find a ring. Then they can return the ring to their agent for a cool 35 thousand — which will pay off the crew, allow them to repair what needs to be repaired, and settle back for some hard-earned vacation.

But nothing in Talis’ life is that simple. It seems they’re not the only ones after this ring. An Imperial officer, Captain Hankirk (who happens to be a former fling of Talis’), and an alien Yu-Nyun ship somehow end up exactly where the Serpent Rose and her prize are floating in the waterless sea. Unable to escape, Talis does what she does best and pisses Hankirk off before running away, tail between her legs and ring in her possession. Running was the smart idea. Keeping the ring? Maybe not so much …

This story is the first entry in the Peridot Shift series and it is a fun, imaginative, adventure story with a stubborn, thick-headed, and idealistic captain and a ragtag crew of misfits who are either going to save the world, or help destroy it. It is not, however, a romance. At least, not yet. This is the first book in a projected trilogy and it spends a great deal of time building up its world and characters, all while keeping an occasional eye on the plot.

Talis was once a young woman with great potential. She was training to be an Imperial officer, rubbing shoulders with the scions of powerful men and women until she realized she wanted no part of their small-minded and bigoted world. Corruption and power and racial superiority weren’t as interesting as independence, friendship, and freedom, so she left before graduation. Now, Talis has her own airship, for all that it’s cobbled together with hope and luck more than anything else, and her own crew — two of which are loyal. Well, loyal-ish.

Her first mate is Dug, a follower of Onaya Bone, one of the five gods who rule over Peridot. He’s loyal, reliable, and a hard worker. He’s almost a friend or, at least, as close to a friend as anyone Talis has. Tisker is a young pickpocket who stole his way onto Talis’ ship and ended up being an excellent pilot. Grateful for safety, food, and the joys of flying a ship, he stays at Talis’ side like a puppy. Then there’s Sophie, the engineer, who has dreams of building and captaining her own ship, which will be an amazing marvel of technology. Until then, she’s content to keep the Wind Sabre working. This is Talis’ crew, these are the people Talis is responsible for, and she takes it seriously.

The problem is … well, it’s Talis, herself. For all that she sees Dug as a friend, she treats him like a first mate and is surprised when he treats her as a Captain in return. Tisker may be a puppy — all loving and devoted — but he’s also growing up and realizing that his Captain isn’t infallible or even all that friendly. Sophie has dreams, which Talis keeps shooting down and dismissing, and then she wonders why Sophie doesn’t trust her, doesn’t leap instantly to do what she’s told without questioning. Talis expects friendship to be given to her without earning it, feeling entitled to their support because she’s their Captain without pausing to think that maybe the more you push someone away, the less they want to get close to you.

Talis makes rash decisions without thinking about the consequences. She has a price tag, and is surprised when other people point it out. She’s also surprised when the people who throw money at things to get their way turn out not to be heroes, and that the people she doesn’t know make choices she doesn’t want them to. Talis is not a bad person or a cruel one, but she is a selfish one. However, at the end of this book — which is quite a cliffhanger — Talis is put in a situation where she will have to reexamine how she has treated her crew, whether the self-imposed isolation she has confused for independence is worth the loneliness, and how far she’s willing to go when it’s not about the money.

I enjoy seeing such a flawed character take center stage because it makes her journey of self-discovery and character growth almost as important and dynamic, if not more so, than the plot itself. The writing is decent, but the author goes into a great deal of extraneous detail and description, which can be a mixed bag. It’s well done, but I found it a little wearing to read every detail of how someone’s elbow bends so they can make a gesture, or how many fingers they wiggle and in what order when they’re saying hello.

And then there’s the world building. This story has shades of Spelljammer (A DnD game with airships, mixed races, aliens, and gods) and the Chanur books by CJ Cherryh, but it feels like they have been shaken up and stirred and put together in a new and interesting way. There were parts — particularly with the alien Yu-Nyun — where I could see the inspiration very clearly, but the story itself is very much its own creation. I had fun with this book and will be keeping my eye out for other books in the series.

If you enjoy science fiction or steampunk, or both together, this book might be something you’d enjoy.