Phex has everything he’s ever wanted: a home, a place to belong, and a planet to call home. And, more than that, he has his family, his Pantheon of Jinyesun and Fandina, Kagee, Tyve, and Berril. Phex never had acceptance before, never had love and support. Now he has that and more, as Asterism — the name the Dyesi have given their group — is growing in fame and worshipers. Asterism is being sent out on tour, earlier than any other new Pantheon. They are doubling up in Tillam’s ship as Tillam, Misset’s dying Pantheon, is taking their farewell tour. Fortew is fading; this will be his last time to sing with his Pantheon, his last time before his worshipers, and Phex is being asked to do the impossible.
Phex, cantor and grace of Asterism, now has double duties. He must be the sun, the center and guiding light of his own Pantheon, practicing their songs and learning who they are as a group, as well as be Fortew’s understudy, ready to leap into action in a heartbeat to join Tilliam in their songs and arrangements. Phex is also still taking his bodyguard lessons, still frightened by the attack on Berril; he cooks, because he’s Phex, and now there’s Missit.
I’m going to be honest. I do not like Missit. Don’t get me wrong, the writing is still strong, the world building is still phenomenal, but the character work shifts from the growing bond between Phex and the world to him babysitting Missit. To being a dutiful and obedient pawn in Missit’s games. Missit is entitled, dramatic, selfish, and spoiled; he is vain and self-centered, needy and heartless. All he wants is to be the center of the universe, and with his group falling apart, with Fortew dying and Tillam on its way out, Missit wants something — anything — that will keep him shining.
Fortew is dying, but somehow it’s always about Missit. Even Fortew, his body dragged from concert to concert, knows this. His one conversation with Phex is about Missit, how someone needs to help Missit through the pain and suffering that Missit is going through — not Fortew, wasting away even as he pushes his body and his voice to perform for his pantheon and his worshipers. Phex asks, again and again, for Missit to not make him choose between his Pantheon, his family, and his friends, and Missit. And Missit waves that aside. Because Phex must choose, will choose, cannot help but choose Missit.
It’s the blind obsession of a first love. It’s the sacrifice of everything Phex has for Missit. It’s distancing himself from his own wants and needs for what Missit wants in that moment. Missit was given to the Dyesi by his parents when he was 10, and has spent over half of his life being shaped by their wants and needs. Tillam was put together as a group for Missit; he has never not had worshipers, never not been the most important person in the room. The youngest, brightest, original god … and then along came Phex. Phex with a voice no Dyesi had heard before, Phex who was the sudden new fixation for the Dyesi. Is it any wonder Missit has claimed him? Wants to make Phex his?
And Missit doesn’t care what Phex wants. Oh, he knows he can win anyone over, but even thinking that Phex doesn’t want him, doesn’t like him, Missit still crawls into his bed, demands his time, creates moments that are just the two of them — moments given because Missit is Missit and the world, the ship, and the universe revolve around him and his wants — whether Phex wants it or not. Whether Phex, with his other duties, other demands, even has the time or energy for them.
Missit claims it’s love, but it’s a very one-sided love. It’s Missit using, owning, possessing. It’s the power disparity of a baby god having the full weight of a God’s attention and fixation on him. It can’t not be flattering, but it isn’t a relationship between equals either in status or emotional weight, because Phex is the one serving Missit, while everyone else falls away. And is it only because Phex said no that Missit wants and needs so desperately for there to be a yes?
I enjoy when a book makes me feel something. I enjoy when books have characters I dislike because I have to figure out why; what about this character, this situation, this fact of the world building is inspiring a response in me. This time it was easy because this book is all about Missit, and I will probably be in the minority who actually kind of loathe him. He’s a user, a needy, emotional vampire who can’t not have everything being about him, and seeing him through Phex’s eyes, through his confused and uncertain and occasional lukewarm reactions, only makes the relationship feel even more unbalanced and unsafe.
Phex has always been drawn to Missit, a creature made by Dyesi surgery and cosmetology. Every movement of Missit is studied and to a point; every pout, every whine, every tilt of his head … and Phex sees through this, sees the few moments when Missit is genuine. But those moments are few, and they are always selfish and entitled. But for Phex, having every moment of confusion or doubt stamped over and brushed aside as insignificant and unimportant, with the most wanted and beloved figure in the galaxy crooning in his ear about how he wants, needs, must have, and cannot live without him? What adolescent entering into puberty could say no?
As much as I dislike Missit, I still love the world building and the writing.
“That to give love is like giving out light.” Quasilun used the Dyesi word for love that was also their word for beauty.
Phex gave a bitter grimace. “Just shine it uselessly into the void?” Should he spend every day getting up onto that dais and pouring out song, color, pattern as if it were worthless but also the only thing worth living for?[…]
The imago looked at Phex with nothing but sympathy for his bitterness. “The point is not that the light you give is returned or reflected back, the point is that it is there, shining. The star is not important to the void, it is important to the ship that is looking for it.”
The Dyesi are a marvelous creation, a conquering race who don’t need to point a gun, shake a spear, or make a single threat. A world at war cannot host their Gods, cannot hear the wonders of Godsong sung live, so planet after planet, solar system after solar system find peace in order to worship at the Dyesi altar of song and beauty. And the more I learn of the Dyesi, the more I love them.
This is the second book in the Tinkered Starsong series, and well worth the read. The third and final book will be out soon, and I can’t wait to see what more the author has to show us about her worlds and her characters! (Even though I think of Missit as a black hole rather than a ship looking for love, I still appreciate him as a very well done character.)