[I received a copy of this book through Penguin’s “First To Read” program, in exchange for an honest review.]
I have a soft spot for sci-fi stories with rag-tag crews and old spaceships; unsurprisingly, this is the kind of story that will get my attention.
The story revolves around two main female characters: Nika, a body modder on the run from her abusive-slash-mafioso boyfriend, and Josune, undercover engineer on board a ship known as “The Road” (these aren’t spoilers: you learn about it in the very first chapters). As they both have to face their own brand of trouble, their paths converge towards The Road, always underlined by the shadow of a man named Goberling, who almost a century ago came back from an expedition with precious metals… but never revealed where he had found them.
This is space opera through and through, with a dash of transhumanism. It’s a world where humanity obviously colonised many worlds, and where people regularly reinvent themselves through body modding—which offers pleznty of possibilities, too, considering how many characters in the book aren’t who they claim to be. It’s also a world of commercial ships, of big corporations that no one dares to cross, and of exploration and legends: The Road’s full name is “The Road to the Goberlings”, and another ship, the Hassim, is renowned through the whole galaxy as an exploration ship whose crew has dedicated itself to finding Goberling’s lost world.
In general, I quite liked the characters, and the relationships developing between them. They’re all their own kind of badass, even the ones, like Nika, who’re not crew that learnt to fight on a ship. There’s a slight dash of hinted romance, but never enough to interfere with the story. The budding friendship between Nika and Josune never veers towards that annoying trope of “female friendships always tinged with interest for A Man”. The Road’s crew sticks together, bound with a loyalty that keeps growing with each trip. And the regular quibbles between Nika and Snow (another modder), was overall fun enough, also because you can feel the nascent respect underneath.
Other things I liked less, though. First, the pacing was sometimes weird, carried in places by short sentences and paragraphs that felt too abrupt; the characters are constantly on the run, and at times it felt that not much happened, that everything was mainly their running away, with bits of story in between.
Another problematic aspect was Nika’s obsession with modding. I enjoyed the more technical side of it (I wish we had such machines, hah!), but she too often went about imagining how she’d reinvent the people around her, from their hair to judging them too fat, which was definitely obnoxious (and motivated much more by aesthetic judgements than by health reasons). For a character who prides herself on being a trend-setter, her trends were somewhat quite… conservative, a.k.a. everybody has to be slim and trim. Somehow, I’m not convinced that if our future does hold such body modding in store, everyone will want the same.
Finally, I wasn’t fully on board (look what I did there) with some of the plot twists, because they were too easy to guess, and I could see them coming a parsec away, to the point that I couldn’t understand how the characters didn’t see it sooner. Maybe it’s just me, or maybe it was made too obvious, too soon? I don’t know. And we don’t get to learn that much about Snow, which is a shame, because I suspect he also has his closet full.
Conclusion: 3 to 3.5 stars. In the end, some parts I had trouble with, others kept me hooked, so while it wasn’t the best book I read this year, it was nonetheless very entertaining, and set in a world that I wouldn’t mind revisiting, because a single book can’t possibly reveal all there is to know about it.