Freighter pilot Marta Grayline is caught in the middle of an impending war between her home planet Nea and its neighbor Adastre. When the war starts, she has nowhere to go but back to her family home in Gideon, a traditionalist, backward country in Nea, where women have little freedom. Away from her beloved job, her friends and her Adastran girlfriend and at odds with her conservative family, Marta feels incredibly isolated in Gideon. So, when the opportunity arises for her and her younger sister, Beth, to join the Novan Emergency Fleet, she takes it, no questions asked.
I love Susan Jane Bigelow’s science fiction novels because they are an incredibly complex mixture of awesome personal character arcs and great stories which often contain thoughtful elements including politics, social commentary and gender issues without ever making her books any less fun.
The Daughter Star takes us to a different universe than that of her excellent Extrahuman series. The gist of the story is: It’s hundreds of years in the future and, in the Family Ternary Star System, war has just been declared between its two main planets Adastre and Nea. The main reason for this war is, ostensibly, an attempt to control Haven, a third habitable planet that orbits the Daughter Star. Beneath this reasoning, though, lie hundreds of years of tension stemming from their shared history. The humans that inhabit these planets are the sole humans in the universe, forcibly moved to this Star System after Earth was destroyed by an alien species called the Abrax, who showed up to harvest the Earth’s atmosphere. Nobody has heard from the Abrax in ages (cue sound of Impending Doom).
It’s in this context that Marta’s—and to an extent her sister’s—arc develops. And it’s a story that is extremely personal but which does not happen in a vacuum. Marta is a member of a family, a citizen of a country, an employee of a government, a person with a diverse group of friends as well as a girlfriend whom she hasn’t seen in months. All of those inform her arc in different ways: There is her sense of freedom at constant war with the impediments imposed by Gideon’s government; her sense of self-worth that is a result of her talent as a pilot and which is constantly questioned by her family, who feels her worth is diminished because she is not married to a man.
Most of what surrounds Marta is conflicting, so it’s not surprising that she remains for most of the novel a confused mess who doesn’t know where her loyalty belongs: Which side should she support in this war? Who is right, who is wrong? Are the Abrax to be trusted? Is anybody to be trusted? Are her feelings for her girlfriend (the first girl she ever hooked up with) real love or a passing infatuation, and, if the latter, maybe she can get together with other women she meets along the way, right? But how can she even make her mind up when every single person or group she meets has a different story to tell and a different horse to back? History comes into play too, as the true story behind the settlement in Adastre and Nea come to light, showcasing corruption, class and social issues that still survive in the present.
The beauty in Bigelow’s stories is…that life is a complicated mass of different influences and there are absolutely no easy answers. This makes up for an engaging read as we follow Marta’s transformation from a somewhat naïve, hesitant girl who is a little bit oblivious and a lot impulsive into a mature, confident woman.
This is a new trilogy, each book following one of the Grayline sisters. I can’t wait for the next one.
In Book Smugglerish, a starry-eyed 8 out of 10.