The chapter titles are cleverly witty and intriguing. There are 79 short chapters which keeps the pace of the novel fairly fast and makes you want to keep listening/reading.
The story is a fun and light-hearted sci-fi adventure in which an unlikely human teenage heroine, Brecca Vereen, finds herself in the thick of an alien invasion of planet Daros after her father’s spaceship, the Envy’s Price, is caught up in an interstellar battle. Their ship is hit, forcing her to escape in a pod to the surface of the planet. She has in her possession an item that must be delivered to a contact named Corax for a large sum of money. Her father’s spaceship crashes on the planet and Brecca embarks on a journey to discover if he and her friends have survived. On the way she meets many imaginatively described non-humanoid alien species and has to decide where her morals lie in deciding whether to sell the mysterious object.
Brecca is a brave and determined sixteen year old. She has a sensible attitude to her own survival and is remarkably resourceful, using skills and capabilities which enable her to ingratiate herself with groups of people she meets along the way, who help to further her journey. She is compassionate towards the small purple Vonar she encounters and respectfully tries to decipher his dying wishes. He gives her his communicator armband which gives her the ability to locate and fly his cloaked ship which turns out to be decorated internally with purple fur - what teenager wouldn’t love to fly an invisible purple furry spaceship!
In addition to Brecca there is another point of view character - Frim, who is one of the invading Zeelin species. Frim is part of a hive-like, all-female crew where additional crew members are grown as needed from buds which occasionally develop on the bodies of the crew. Their memories and experiences are implanted into them soon after incubation and they are culled by the despotic Captain Torlo whenever they displease her. Frim is not a fan of the invasion and we discover she is actually a member of the Resistance, with a mission to find and protect artefacts which have been located on Daros by its human mining colony. The invading Zeelin want to use these artefacts to enable them to dominate other species. Empathic Frim has a strong moral compass and sense of unfairness of the way life is under Captain Torlo. She is a really well-written many-layered alien whose mission I became totally invested in. As we get to know Frim we find out that she has never known affection or had feelings for another of her species and was not aware this was even a possibility, but this gradually changes as she becomes closer with another member of the Resistance. This awakening of feelings was tentatively explored and very heart-warming. I found myself hoping the two Zeelin in question might find a happy ending together.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The characterisation and world-building are solid, although the latter is mostly located in the final quarter of the narrative. I especially enjoyed all of the different alien species, whose descriptions were a lot of fun to read, especially telepathic Guzma, a non mobile entity who lives in a box and emits a jelly like substance occasionally, the four armed, beaked Kenthar, whose history was so interesting and the invading Zeelin:
“The soldier was a hulking thing, maybe 200 kilos and half again as tall as a person. Bipedal, but with a thick fleshy tail protruding from the back of the metallic armor, tapering to a point at the tip. The armor suits on the other ones she could see seemed to include a helmet, but on this one, the glassy dome was missing or retracted. This revealed a gray leathery head with three slits on top that flapped open sometimes, a single bulbous eye in the middle, then below that the mouth hole, an irregular gash across the bottom of the face. This hole opened and closed as the soldier spoke. There was no discernable neck. The head just extended from the top of the armor like a chunk of gray biopaste from a rations tube.”
The “machine intelligence individual” known as Lyra who is present on the Vonar ship brought a whole other dimension to the story, along with more than a few laughs. Her irreverence towards Brecca at the beginning of their relationship was hilarious, particularly when Brecca asks her if she can maybe be a little friendlier, after all that Brecca has been through, and Lyra takes on the persona of a snarky teenaged girl. This came across really well in the narration as Jennifer Pratt switched between bland machine voice to a more modern teenager type voice. The history of the rise of the “machine intelligence individuals” and the subsequent Principle Agreement which had to be made between them and the Vonar to foster compatibility and cooperation, rather than annihilation of the Vonar species or destruction of all of the machines was an interesting perspective. Lyra was one of my favourite characters in the book.
There is a reason why this book is a semi-finalist in this year’s SPFSC competition (put together by Hugh Howey) - it is a fun and fast-paced character-driven adventure that is well worth your time and attention and I highly recommend it if you like space battles, smuggling, a daring rescue mission, intriguing aliens, brave, strong female characters, moral decision-making by a teenaged heroine, friendship and honour in the face of death.