Several years ago, I moved to a new state far from home, and started the arduous process of attempting to make friends. I met someone, I’ll call her Gertrude, who seemed great at first. She was nice and friendly and chatty, and we started grabbing lunch every once in a while. Unfortunately, by the time I spent enough time with her to figure out that Gertrude was smug and narrow-minded and relentlessly negative, those lunches and texts and hangouts were routine, and I was stuck. I solved the problem by once again moving states and states away.
This book felt like that friendship. It had such promise! A woman author, writing about a main character who was a woman, and lots of women and people of color in positions of command in their version of Star Fleet, just because it was normal and obvious, and not any sort of Important Plot Point! And then, Lieutenant Jodenny Scott’s love interest is a suspected racist (record scratch #1), hated by most of his peers in the fleet. And homophobia is still totally cool, even to the point of homosexual relationships being illegal on some planets, even though it’s a bazillion years in the future (record scratch #2). But because I never have enough sense to put down a book once I’ve started (or a burgeoning friendship once there’s a lunch routine), I finished this increasingly incoherent mess.
Lieutenant Scott was on a ship that experienced a disaster, with her being one of the few survivors. She’s shaken, but ready to take on her new ship and new assignment. She’s put in charge of the Supply department, rumored to be a mess. She starts cleaning up, scheduling inspections, demanding daily reports, and taking careful inventory, all while trying desperately not to develop feelings for Terry Myell, a handsome but surly sergeant. Her staff starts getting bullied, and when she goes to her superiors for help, she gets the runaround. It turns out she’s stumbled into some corruption and smuggling, and she doesn’t know who to trust.
There are some interesting bits to this story, but nothing ever quite gels. There are so many characters (new squadrons, commanders, civilians, new and old shipmates, etc.) thrown at you in the beginning, I found it impossible to keep track of who is who. At one point, Francesco gets reassigned to a different department and Jodenny is devastated, and I had no idea who Francesco was. Plus, Jodenny herself is impossible to pin down. She’s a hardcore soldier and survivor, taking no shit from her mouthy new team. She’s a gooey tween, melting when Sergeant Possible Rapist gives her a half-smile (she doesn’t believe the rumors, of course). She’s a psycho hosebeast, turning on her friends the second something doesn’t go her way. People tell her Myell is a rapist and she doesn’t believe it because he’s cute, but the second someone accuses two of her teammates (including Myell) of falsifying inventory records, she goes full-on Scorched Earth and believes every word, alternating between screaming at them and ignoring them completely. None of it makes any sense, or goes together at all.
Plus, there’s a side plot with universe-crossing alien technology that could have been cool, were it not just used as a way to throw Jodenny and the sergeant together. And since the story is based on Australian culture, McDonald attempts to do some social commentary with the plight of the Aborigines, but since it’s just a piece of a chapter and a few visions, it doesn’t amount to much. All in all, a disconnected disappointment.