Stars: 4 out of 5.
This is a dystopian novel, even if it takes the reader a while to recognize that. After all, we have a modern spaceship piloted by an AI and a crew member who is tasked with visiting a umber of worlds populated by humans. She trades trinkets and harmless technologies or medicines in exchange for memory bracelets that certain inhabitants of these worlds wear throughout generations. Since her ship travels at speeds as close to light as possible, Her trip between planets might take 5 years, but for those planets, over a thousand years pass between visits.
That’s where the dystopia comes into play. Because even though Amahle visits these planets every thousand years or so, nothing changes on them. The medieval planet is forever stuck in those dark middle ages. The industrial and steam revolution planet doesn’t advance past those innovations. Even the most evolved planet at the end of her loop, where she unloads her stock of memory bracelets, hasn’t made any significant breakthroughs in millions of years. Everything stays forever the same. More than that, there is no interstellar travel in this human-populated space, apart from those Light Chaser ships.
When Amahle finally discovers the reason why, at first she refuses to believe it, then she is terrified, then she decides to do something about it.
I thought this was an interesting take on slavery. Because make no mistake, the entire human race is enslaved by an unknown alien race. Just because humans have no idea that it is happening doesn’t make the fact any less appalling. It was also an interesting study on the nature of our memories – what is real, can our memories be manipulated, can erased memories be recovered? And of course, it’s also a study of trust, love, and the feeling of safety. And also about hope and ingenuity.
It’s a quick read and I thoroughly enjoyed it, even though I questioned the author’s decision to start the book with the ending, then rewind the story to show us how the characters got to that point, I think it took away from the suspense of the story – we already know that the characters will succeed and survive until that final confrontation, so there is no tension when they are put in danger in the rest of the book.
I think telling the events in the normal chronological way would have added a lot more tension to the story, since we would have had to discover everything along with Amahle, without knowing where the story was going. We would have been a lot more invested in the discovery and the struggle itself, and the ending would have been a lot more satisfying.
Anyway, if you want a fun book about space travel, love, and reincarnation, I would highly recommend this one. Plus it’s only 172 pages long, so it’s a fast read for a rainy afternoon.
PS: I received an advanced copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.