Haunting, colorful environments distinguish this debut novel about a girl fighting for survival in the far future.
Ava lives on the Parastrata. She knows nothing beyond her polygamous, fundamentalist religion, whose followers began living in spaceships some 1,000 years ago and which holds women as property since they harbor an interest in Earth “like a soft, rotten spot in [their] souls.” Informed that she’s marrying a man on another ship, Ava’s thrilled to see Luck, a boy she met years ago, in the greeting party. They know they should wait until after their wedding, but they sneak into a desalination pool and succumb to sex the night before—and get caught. To their shock (though not readers’), Ava was actually promised to Luck’s father. The Parastrata women wash Ava and lock her in a chilled room to await her punishment: Being pushed out into open space, which is, of course, fatal. A difficult, terrifying escape and a relative’s sacrifice provide another chance, but where can she go? From the strained peculiarity of the Parastrata to a sunbaked community afloat on the Pacific Ocean to the bustle of Mumbai, Duncan’s settings and diction are vivid. As brown-skinned people become Ava’s chosen family, she learns that her own medium-dark skin—mocked aboard the Parastrata—isn’t a religious stain, marking this a welcome browning of the science-fiction universe. Ava’s decisions sometimes serve plot more than characterization, but readers caught up in the story will forgive this.
Memorable. (Science fiction. 14-17)