The way Hurley uses such a short page length to build multiple worlds and still have space for a story should be taught in school. No spare time is spent on wasted details yet characters' travels and conversions tell the reader everything that is needed to be known and more. This dying earth space opera checks all the right boxes. It is unique and alien. Dark, occasionally gross, and full of mystery. Strong imagery lets you see experience what Zan and her collected group of outcasts are experiencing. The world ships are a thing of wonder; but also horror as the curtain is pulled back to see exactly what it takes to keep them living for so long.
This is an author with a track record of making readers care for bad people doing bad things; even if there is occasionally justification for each action. Zan seems to be a basically good person; collecting a mixed group of allies as she works toward her unknown cause. Yet she has snatches of memories that make her doubt even her own intentions. Her path seems interlaced with Jayd's, a women who appears to be a friend (or more) but obviously has her own secrets. Both of these women are playing politics with monsters as the rival factions of the Legion cut deals, war, and otherwise live brutal lives on the unforgiving ships.
Though quickly paced the reader is always left one step behind. Because of Zan's memory loss the long game is as much a mystery to her as it is to the reader. Chapters focusing on Jayd are completely unreliable as her mind is so twisted its one is left to wonder if she even knows what she is hiding from who. This is both a pro and a con though. It makes each chapter a must read, one more page, 'oh didn't see that coming' experience. But by playing the cards so close close to the vest surprises can fall a bit flat. Questions of what is a betrayal and what is planned make it hard to get emotionally involved in the proceedings, even if intellectually one is 'all in.'
It is that lack of emotional connection that keeps this from being a really great book; though settling for really damn good is no insult. It is still completely unique, very engaging, and a stand alone to boot allowing one to avoid any fear of commitment. Come award season expect to see it get some run. Though the 'Lesbians in Space' tagline has already got a lot of internet traction please know that The Stars are Legion has an all women cast but is not solely defined by it. Men have no place on the legion and it both works and makes sense; a statement it may be but not one that doesn't back itself up within the narrative.
The Stars are Legion is yet another highly ambitious book from Kameron Hurley and once again she comes through with the good stuff. It has the scope space opera needs, the alienness that anything set in the future should have, and a strong enough story to carry it.
Copy for review provided by publisher.