My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is my first five-star read of this year. It surprised me because when I read the author's two previous works (novellas), I liked them but wasn't gosh-wow impressed. However, this book had more room for worldbuilding and (especially) characterization. Together with the themes of fascism, genocide, self-determination, and the exploration of a repressive cult-like atmosphere, the book built to an earned, triumphant ending.
I also loved it in spite of the fact that the main character, Valkyr, starts out as a very unlikable person. In the story's first two sections, she is a nasty, ruthless bully, so caught up in the propaganda and authoritarian culture of the breakaway Gaea Station where she was born and raised that she does several reprehensible things. But though she is not nice by any stretch of the imagination, Valkyr, or Kyr, is a well-written, compelling character that the reader wants to follow. Maybe at first to see if she gets her comeuppance, but as the story progresses and her painful redemption arc begins to take shape, I found myself rooting to see if she could truly change and come to terms with what she has done and what is happening around her. The secondary characters, particularly the computer whiz Avicenna and the alien Yiso, are interesting enough that I wished they could have had sections of their own (Kyr is the only viewpoint character throughout). Still, this tight focus on Kyr and her internal struggles as her entire world is upended makes for fascinating reading.
We open with a virtual-reality depiction of Doomsday, the central event of Kyr's life, even though it happened when she was only two years old. This occurred when humanity was defeated by the alien majo and Earth was destroyed by an interdimensional weapon. In the years since, four dreadnoughts bearing the few thousand survivors of humanity (or "true humans"--Gaea Station has, among its many other fascistic tendencies, an unpleasant strain of eugenics) established the station to recoup and continue to fight back. Indeed, the station's motto is "while we live, the enemy shall fear us." Gaea Station is powered by the dreadnoughts' "shadow engines," a bit of admitted handwavium by the author that plays a pivotal point in the plot and the station's eventual destruction.
Kyr's training is almost complete, and she expects to be assigned to one of Gaea Station's combat wings. However, she is instead assigned to Nursery, the forced-pregnancy wing of Gaea Station where future
We spend some time in a Wisdom-generated alternate timeline during the course of the book, which is pivotal to Kyr's character arc. This happens after she flees Gaea Station, following her brother Magnus to a planet where she thinks he has been assigned to a suicide mission. There she learns what the commander of Gaea Station, a man she has looked up to and well-nigh worshipped all her life, did to her older sister Ursa. This is as bad as you'd expect, given a mentality that thinks it's perfectly fine to force women to breed more soldiers. Kyr and Avicenna team up to take over the Wisdom, but Avi then uses his control of the interdimensional "god machine" to wipe out virtually all of the alien worlds. Kyr's brother Mags (who never wanted to be a soldier and was forced into it by Gaea Station) then kills himself. Kyr is so broken by her brother's death she manipulates the sentient Wisdom into returning her to the pivotal point of her timeline, Doomsday, where she stops the death of the Earth. This launches the alternate timeline that leads Kyr to destroying both the Wisdom and Gaea Station and freeing everyone on the latter.
This book has a twisty plot, but I was able to follow it well enough. In any case, my focus was on the characters, especially Kyr. There are some heavy topics tackled here, but seeing them through Kyr's viewpoint makes for a thoughtful, exciting story. I really enjoyed this.
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