September 7, 2020

Review: The First Sister

The First Sister The First Sister by Linden A. Lewis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I almost DNF'd this book on its first chapter. This book opens on the sad tale of the nameless, titular "First Sister," a space prostitute consort heading off her ship to retire along with its captain, only to discover her captain has broken his promises and sailed off to Mars without her. And by the way, her voice was taken away when she was coerced into the Sisterhood, so she can't even cry over him. The new captain, Saito Ren, has taken over the battleship Juno, and First Sister retreats to her cabin to scheme how to gain the new captain's notice. She needs to retain the captain's armband so she can hold her rank and not get sent to the ship's lower levels, where she'll have to service the ordinary soldiers.

This wasn't badly written, but I was rolling my eyes and thinking, Really? This setup is a cliche and a half. I decided to give the book a couple more chapters, and I'm glad I did: the next two characters introduced, Lito sol Lucius and Hiro val Akira, Rapier and Dagger (cybernetically linked fighters) respectively, came on stage and proceeded to carry the novel.

The worldbuilding gets fairly interesting here. It's gradually revealed: there are two competing factions, the Icarii with their technology and neural implants, based on Mercury and Venus; and the Geans, with their insistence on "natural" humans and their religion of the Sisterhood, the somewhat ill-conceived mixture of priestesses and sex workers that are co-rulers in the governments of (apparently badly polluted and in Earth's case, more than half dead--it's called "brown" instead of blue) Earth and Mars. Humanity is split along these two factions, along with a third: the gene-modded Asters, who live in and mine the asteroid belt. (A fourth faction, the mysterious Synthetics who abandoned humanity after the Dead Century War, live in the outer reaches of the solar system, after warning humans never to expand past Jupiter.)

There are three interwoven storylines: Lito's, Hiro's and First Sister's. Hers is the weakest of the three, although I warmed to her a bit more towards the end of the book. The main drawback to her character is that the author doesn't drill down enough into the psyche of a woman who was forced into the Sisterhood and had her voice taken from her at age twelve (although she apparently doesn't start her state-sanctioned rapes for a few years after that), or examine the implications for the society that allows the Sisterhood to exist. There is the Icarii, and there are the Geans, and they are at war, fighting over the existence of the magical element hermium, only found on Mercury, which powers their technology. (This also bugged me more than a little; it's another Really? That needed to be better thought out.) They're also fighting over other resources in the Aster-held asteroid belt. All this reminded me of James S.A. Corey's The Expanse, although Corey does it far better.

Still, despite these flaws (and a rather unconvincing plot twist in First Sister's storyline that had me rolling my eyes yet again), there's enough here, mainly in the Lito/Hiro storyline, to move forward, I think. Your mileage will definitely vary; I know a lot of readers will be put off by First Sister's character and story altogether, and I can't really blame them. The author definitely needs to think about their societies and worldbuilding more, and tackle the problems and implications those create. If they do that, they might end up with an excellent book, instead of a flawed but promising one.

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