When I had my embarrassing epiphany this spring that my CBR reading list and library were unacceptably skewed toward male authors, I spent a number of hours googling female authors, particularly those in genres with which I’m less familiar. One of the best sources I found was a list called “27 Female Authors Who Rule Sci-Fi and Fantasy Right Now”, several of which I’ve purchased already and even more that are high on my wishlist.
My most recent read from those recommendations was The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley, probably the most fitting read for me this year in that it takes place in a remote star system populated only by women. The book begins with a dedication from Hurley that I used as the title to this review, and I can’t think of a more fitting opening. Brutal women, indeed.
Zan awakes to find herself in recovery from some catastrophic event, unable to remember anything from her past. Her memory comes back in bits and pieces as she’s assisted in her recovery by Jayd, a woman who claims to be her sister. Jayd parses out pieces of information, rationing to keep from telling Zan too much too soon to upset her and spoil her recovery. It turns out that Zan has been here before, perhaps hundreds of times, having failed at the same mission over and over.
Zan soon learns conflicting pieces of information from others around her, most of whom hate Jayd and tell Zan not to trust her. Zan finds that her body and subconscious still remember how to fight even if her mind can’t recall why, and before long, she’s heading out on the same mission again. This time, however, it’s different. She avoids catastrophe and escapes with her memory intact, and Jayd uses the opportunity to convince the lord of their planet to let her try a new approach to dealing with their enemies.
I won’t go any further into the story, and I realize I’ve been really general with what I’ve shared, but I want to leave as much as possible for new readers to discover on their own. Kameron Hurley has written a novel that combines the character-driven space opera of Iain M. Banks and Becky Chambers with the weird fantasy of Jeff Vandermeer and the dystopian fever dreams of Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer) into something wholly original. It’s at once expansive and claustrophobic, immediate and mythic, unpredictable and inevitable, and it will remain on my mind for a long time to come.