cw: food deprivation (nothing that turns into starvation, but it’s pretty close)
Johnston, as an author, oscillates between great and meh for me. That averages out to above average, so I’ll continue reading her books as they come out, but it does make for a lot of heightened expectations which don’t always bear fruit. This book, unfortunately, falls into that latter camp–I jumped it to the top of my TBR list but don’t think it necessarily deserved the treatment.
Exit, Pursued by a Bear is one of my favorite books, for all that it deals with a super heavy topic (cw: sexual assault, pregnancy) because it’s really a book about best friends. The Afterward is another of my favorites, a sort of “Tamora Pierce’s Tortall adventures but make it GAY.” Both have this ineffable lightness of being, a sort of Fredrik Backman way of hitting the heart of the matter and letting sincerity ring (clearly, a thing I love).
Aetherbound, on the other hand, feels like an outline of which only ~50% was fleshed out. There’s a lot of exposition-via-omniscient-third-person-narrator which flips through hundreds (thousands?) of years of history, charting the rise of a rapacious colonizing empire, their brush with universe magics, their failed attempt at conquering a neighboring empire, the loss of magic, and the final subjugating gasps of a dying dictator-group…and that’s all in the first few pages.
I’ll give you that Pendt becomes a new person post-leaving her old ship. She sort of undergoes a personality change, and I can see that being driven by having food for the first time in ages. It is sort of jarring, but I think that’s mostly because of the aforementioned outline-esque quality throughout.
The book does suffer from a lack of forward momentum once Pendt gets off the Harland, and while she’s happier and healthier, I do think there’s much less of interest in the day to day on a prosperous station versus the hardscrabble life on generation ships. This book definitely ends on a cliffhanger of sorts, but I don’t find myself SUPER eager to know what happens next. I’ll read it, but it’ll have to wait its turn.