Rating: 4.5 stars
Buy Link:
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Length: Novel

 

Siphany is alone in the vastness of uncharted space — well, except for her cat — and that’s just how she likes it. On her ship she has the perfect level of lights and heat, the soothing routines, and best of all, no one to judge her, to make her feel self conscious, or to pressure her into being some way, someone she isn’t. But one small act of kindness leads to Siphany being kidnapped and throws her into a war spanning solar systems, a war that costs millions of lives, and destroys everything she thought made her happy.

When Siphany is kidnapped, she finds help from Lurbira, a sapient AI in the form of a little girl whose foul temper; blunt, confrontational way of speaking; and thick skin (in every sense of the world) somehow soothe Siphany’s nerves. Lurbira doesn’t lie, doesn’t play social games, and she doesn’t give a damn about who Siphany is. She just wants to be herself, thank you, and in Lurbira, Siphany finds a kindred spirit. A friend, which she hasn’t had in a long time.

Then there’s Isan, who is an abomination in ever sense of the word. A walking corpse powered by mechanical augments, whose program is based on the memories of the dead little girl she used to be. She is not sei, that is to say sapient, especially in the eyes of Lurbira, who fought to have her own sapience recognized. Or is she? Where is the line between program and person, between questioning and querying?

While running from the Loyan military who are dead set on conquering the universe (and succeeding), Siphany runs into Qas, her old lover and friend. And then there’s Pati, a current friend and almost lover, but the timing of it all … well, it isn’t good. Everyone’s an emotional wreck, falling apart as they watch their worlds and stations eaten up by an oppressive government, and no one’s ready for romance even as they desperately reach out for comfort.

And then Lurbira starts falling apart, her mechanical body dying. A ghostly whisper from another ship, The Call, Lurbira’s home ship, might be the answer. Maybe they have spare parts, or a way to fix her? Or maybe it will just be a chance to let Lurbira say farewell. Or maybe it’s just the path left to them as worlds die.

This is a quiet, thoughtful book, and Siphany — neurodivergant, with anxiety and panic attacks — is a quiet, watchful character. She isn’t cruel or cold, but she takes time to warm up to people. She enjoys Lurbira not just because Lurbira saves her, but because Lurbira doesn’t care. Doesn’t care that Siphany has no interest in being a hero and returning to her home planet to die in a blaze of glory, that Siphany doesn’t like bright lights, that Siphany isn’t great at conversation. (And Lurbira saved her cat.)

Lurbira has struggled in her long life. Made to be a replacement for the daughter they never had, her owners left her behind and for years, she was just a program tending to a house on a dying world until she was found by The Call, one of the last ships from the ghost of Earth. There people took an interest in her, and slowly she developed her own sei, her only ability to question, to learn, to fight for her own personhood. And then she left them. She’s angry, she’s defensive, she’s been treated like a thing, like property by humans. By other Artificials, she’s treated like a child, not because of her child’s body, but because she hasn’t been aware for that long, and it chafes. Siphany treats her like an equal. She respects her, listens to her, relies on her, and offers up a quiet, unquestioning friendship and it’s the first Lurbira has had, and all the more precious for it.

Artificials were created on Loyan as treats and trinkets, toys for the rich. They certainly weren’t made to be people, and when they were no longer fashionable, they were tossed aside. But when the Artificials proved they were capable of sapience, planets began to pass the Artificial Rights Act … except Loyan. And with Loyan set on conquering the world, Lurbira is at risk of losing more than her life; she might well lose her personhood.

Isan is a synth, a Synthetic. A dead body with no mind but the one programmed to run the implants that make the body work. Things such as her were used as soldiers, unable to feel pain or refuse orders, but the Pelagarine war put an end to that. So now Isan is an oddity, looked at with fear and discomfort by humans, pity by Artificials. Taken away from the woman who made her, who programmed her, Isan is finding it hard to figure out what she is. If she is. Is she human? If so, how much of her? Is she the girl who died, or is she someone made of new memories and thoughts? Can she want? Can she say no? On a ship with so many different people, each with their own way of existing, Isan is having to find her own.

Qas, Siphany’s ex lover, has been working as a spymaster for Sovene, the planet they and Siphany come from. Now, Qas has a chance to reunite with Siphany, someone who hates the culture Qas reclaimed, who is perhaps the only other free Sovene left in the galaxy, Qas wants to try to get back to where they were. But they can’t, neither of them can. They can only work towards something new.

Pati is an intelligence officer who comes in like an avenging angel to save Siphany, only to watch as her people are swallowed by the Loyan armies, as her station is conquered and her fellow pilots are turned into little more than atoms floating through space. And she runs. When she’s rescued by Siphany, she wants nothing more than to fall apart, to have joined her people, to have done … something. Instead, she’s here on this ship with its strange collection of cast offs and lost souls. She’s unable to be a hero, unable to do anything, so … she drinks.

The relationships in this book are the highlight — which is good, because this is, as I’ve already said, a quiet book. There’s fighting and war going on, but that’s in the background and off to the side; it’s an inciting event that causes things to happen rather than the focus of this book. Siphany has ties to multiple characters, moments with each of them, and the focus on friendship and compassion, on the pain of having to make hard choices, of learning to stand up for yourself are done beautifully. The world building is fun, and the Artificials and the Synthetics were really well done.

I had so much fun reading this book. The writing is as smooth as silk, the pace was perfect — never too much time spent in one location, and never too much time spent in thoughts or arguments — and while the romance(s) is there, it’s quiet and in the background. It’s a potentiality that is well handled at the end of the book, rather than something taking focus from the rest of the story. There’s a philosophical, wistful feel to this book, in my opinion. A lot of thinking and feeling about what is human, what is a person, the cost of war, and the horror of being a bystander, a helpless witness to the atrocity sweeping the galaxy.

This book may not resonate with everyone, and that’s okay. If you’re a fan of action scenes, this isn’t the book for you. Well, there are action scenes, but they’re not the focus. This is about friendship, selfhood, sisterhood, and the ties that we form regardless of gender, skin color, or augments. It’s about persecution, yes, but more from the view of those who have survived it, and how that pain and suffering shaped them into the person they are now. It’s about loneliness and distance, and it’s lovely.