You Sexy Thing by Cat Rambo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a high concept space opera of old soldiers thrown into a new crisis when something from their past comes back to bite them, big time.
Captain Nicolette Larsen, or Niko, once led a company for the Holy Hive Mind, a race of interlinked group consciousness. She escaped and freed her friends and fellow soldiers the only way she could, by pretending to be an artist (a master chef in her case). Now she and the members of her company run the Last Chance, a restaurant on TwiceFar, a space station holding dozens of species at the edge of the Known Universe. When the book opens, Niko receives a mysterious package: a stasis capsule holding an unknown being, and she has no idea who it is or where it came from. But she has no time to think about it, as that night the Last Chance is supposed to receive a visit from a famous restaurant critic. If this goes well, their business will be greatly increased, and Niko will finally have the funds to finance an expedition of her own.
Needless to say, things don't go well. TwiceFar station is attacked by aliens playing a deadly "game," and Niko and company, including the critic, have to take refuge aboard the expensive bioship You Sexy Thing, a bioship owned by another restaurant customer. He gives them the password to board the Thing before he dies (though he won't be dead for long, as in this universe rich people download into new clone bodies and wake up again, sort of like Cylons). Niko's company boards the ship and they withdraw from the carnage, but the Thing announces they are thieves and it is taking them to a prison planet where it intended to turn them over for prosecution. They never reach said planet, as they are hijacked by the restaurant critic Lolola, who is revealed as a plant working for the pirate king Tubal Last, a thoroughly nasty (and somewhat over-the-top) tyrannical sociopath from Niko's past. Last collects unique things and people, including an alien plant being called a Florian who was once Niko's shipmate and lover. Long ago Niko tried to steal the Florian Petalia back, and this so affronted Tubal Last that he has spend decades planning his revenge.
This book is well-paced and plotted, though it turns rather dark in the sections where Niko and her friends (including Atlanta, the person sent to Niko in the stasis chamber who claims to be an heir of the Paxian Empire) are held at the IAPH, the Intergalactic Association of Pirate Havens, and tortured. It's set in a somewhat standard space-opera universe, tweaked a bit by the presence of were-lions--two of which, Thorn and his twin Talon, are Niko's comrades--magic, and battle mages. There's also a degree of mysticism involved, primarily from another of Niko's friends, the lizard being Lassite. Lassite is a Sessile priest who follows what he calls the Spiral of Destiny, and he can see the branching timelines of the multiverse. Niko sits at the center of his own personal Spiral, and he has been with her for years. The author wisely resists the urge to go hog-wild with either their magic or their mysticism, using it mostly for background and atmosphere.
What differentiates this book from most of its ilk is the fact that it's written in omniscient point of view. Now, normally I do not like omniscient POV; the headhopping drives me nuts. I must say, however, that Rambo uses this POV efficiently and well. There were a few awkward passages that made me wince and wish for a chapter and/or a scene break, but overall the story was told about as well as it could be using this technique. It helps that the characters whose heads we slide into and out of are finely drawn and well characterized, and again the POV itself is used with restraint, as we spend most of the book in only a handful of people out of the total.
The author approaches this book with a fine command of their characters and world and a sure hand, and this book has a minimum of first-novel problems. The storyline is wrapped up nicely at the end and can be read as a standalone, although there are a few loose threads that could be picked up in another book. Omniscient POV or not, I think that book would be worth reading.
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