Do you like EPIC science fiction about people fighting fascists? Do you like humour? Do you like romance? Then you will love Nightchaser. End of review.
No? There’s a minimum word limit? Okay, okay.
Nightchaser is the start of a new series for Bouchet. It focuses on Tess Bailey, nee Contessa Novalight, daughter of the Overseer, the oppressive tyrant of literally the entire galaxy. He reminds me a lot of Putin, in that he upholds a culture of drab uniformity, narrative around peace arising directly from the status quo, the ruthless destruction of any who even insinuate opposition, but also unchecked capitalism, particularly where it benefits him and those who temporarily have his favour. Tess, on the other hand, is a rebel. Tess hasn’t seen or spoken to dear old dad for several decades, on account of he ordered her death as a kid after experimenting on her “freakish blood” which would irk me as well to be honest. Since leaving the comforts of home, she’s spent time in a musical starring Julie Andrews worthy orphanage, a gritty 80’s movie worthy jail (think the jail from Running Man), and with the rebels (who we don’t actually get to see much of), where she took on the title of Nightchaser. Nightchasers are smugglers. They steal stuff the rebellion needs, they move people, and they try to stay out of Running Man jail.
Likely as a result of this pretty intense variation on experiences, she has a bunch of trauma and an intense connection to the few people in her life who… Well, who don’t experiment on her and try to kill her and stuff. I really like Tess. I was expecting her to be another Strong Female Character who is literally just a cookie cutter male hero with a drinking problem and a death wish to show how dark and broody and important she is. That didn’t happen. Tess is a terrific leader who does not accept command as a given. She’s an expert thief, obviously. But she is also extremely loving. Very much NOT an Ends Justify The Means gal. She doesn’t have a death wish so much as she loves people so much that she will give and give and give until there is nothing left of her. I think a lot of people can sympathize with that. It makes it all the more powerful when the people in her life who care for her tell her that she needs to care for herself too. That this need to carve herself up for others is not sustainable and that she deserves to have a life of her own, choices of her own, too.
I also love that Tess is allowed to be a Strong Female Character who isn’t sexually experienced. That’s so rare. Usually, a woman can either be weak and virginal or tough and walk around with a lady boner 24/7. Given how her life has shaken out so far, it makes perfect sense that her toughness doesn’t come from the same place as sexual confidence. So she’s tough as nails, but she blushes and can’t flirt for shit because she literally has only spoken to her tiny crew for the last five years and hasn’t been attracted to another human being in almost a decade. I think strength comes from how much you are yourself, so I’m glad that Tess got to be herself.
Tess gets a cat. The cat is NEVER injured. It is fawned over by all and sundry.
Susan, the absolutely delightful woman who gives Tess the cat, is probably my favorite character in the book. She is silly and flighty in that way that a lot of older spinster (i.e. financially independent and single) women are written, but she is written as a woman who chooses to be silly and flighty and messy as her own personal rebellion against a system that prizes nothing above order. The difference from the cookie cutter version is, like with Tess, pretty tiny in the grand scheme of things, but it feels like everything.
The other characters don’t get as much air time. We have Shade, whose name almost blinded me from the intensity of my eye roll. This isn’t his story. He’s the love interest and really, he doesn’t get to be much more than that. There’s a token attempt at a backstory of lost wealth and the battle to regain it, but we never get into the nitty gritty. That said, there were pretty clear suggestions that his past as a bounty hunter is going to create friction in the sequels. Again, I really appreciate this (assuming it happens). In what I guess we now call the post #MeToo cancel culture, there is a lot of narrative about how we harm one another, how the harmer must act, what repentance and forgiveness looks like, etc. This critical conversation hasn’t really transitioned into fiction (with the notable exception of Bojack Horseman), and I think fiction is precisely the medium with which we can explore, a little detached, how we might navigate these kinds of extraordinarily difficult, nuanced situations.
The world (galaxy) Bouchet built is not particularly innovative, so if you’re looking for a totally fresh take in sci fi, this isn’t the place to go for it. This is a character study in people who are frustrated with the oppressive, confining system they live within, the reasons people choose to stay in the mainstream, the ways people in the mainstream find moments of rebellion, the reasons people choose to rebel outright, and how incredibly hard it is to have to make that choice to live on the outside over and over again in the face of insurmountable odds and unbearable losses.
If you’re ramping up for the 2020 election or doing some on the ground activism, this might be a good book in your toolkit for when you feel burnt out and need a reminder that what you do matters.