Feb. 17th, 2017

sawyl: (A self portrait)
I've been looking forward to Kameron Hurley's The Stars are Legion for a while and I've not been disappointed. A wide-screen baroque space opera of the first order, the story is set among a cluster of vast semi-organic worldships — the titular Legion — where are long-running fight for control of a rogue world called the Mokshi, which promises a way to leave the fleet of ships, is finally seems to be coming to a head.

We begin with Zan, the first of our narrators, awaking with a single memory: that of throwing away a child. Unable to remember the rest of her past, she finds herself dependent on those around her, mostly especially a woman called Jayd who insists that she is Zan's sister. Zan learns that she is on a worldship called Katazyrna, that she has recently returned from an attack on the Mokshi, and that of all the armies sent by Lord Katazyrna against the Mokshi, Zan is the only one who always returns alive, albeit without her memory. Before she knows it, Zan is ordered to lead assault against the rogue ship only to be intercepted by the forces of the world of Bhavaja and its lord, Rasida.

Jayd, meanwhile, finds herself treading carefully around Zan and her amnesia. The pair have a long and complicated history, but every time Zan manages to finally get aboard the Mokshi, she loses her memory and returns as a blank slate. Then, as time passes and she interacts with Jayd and with Anat, Katazyrna's lord, more fragments of her past come back to her until she experiences a mental collapse triggered by the events of her shared past with Jayd. Despite all this, it is clear that the pair have a shared agenda and that Zan, for all that she can't remember her role, is critical to the success of their plan.

Furious at Zan's latest failure Anat comes up with a scheme to cement peace between Katazyrna and Bhavaja: she offers Jayd's to Lord Bhavaja in marriage; a deal sweetened by the unnamed contents of Jayd's womb, currently held in stasis by a drug regime. But Anat, psychotic and controlling, has underestimated her opponent and almost before the blood used to seal the union has cooled, Katazyrna finds itself betrayed. This leaves Jayd a prisoner in all but name and results in Zan being cast down a recycling chute that leads to the heart of Katazyrna where hideous creatures breakdown organic matter, allowing it to be reused by the world.

From this point the two narratives separate. Jayd, now a member of Rasida's court on Bhavaja, tries to further her plan without doing anything that might get herself killed. Zan, meanwhile, finds herself on the long and hard way that leads out of hell and into light. Along the way she picks up companions who start as wary strangers and gradually transform into friends as their long trek back to the surface progresses.

The Stars are Legion is very unlike anything else, with its strange organic worlds full of peculiar grotesqueries. Although it goes completely unremarked in the narrative, everyone in the Legion is female — a feature which makes sense when you discover that each of them is somehow controlled by the ship into giving birth to the various creatures and components it requires in order to sustain its existence.

The central theme of the book is the voyage to self-discovery. Zan starts as a tabula rasa — a useful narrative feature which allows Hurley to build her world without too much awkwardness — only to form herself through her Dantean journey back up from the centre of Katazyrna, before eventually being forced to make a choice about who she truly wants to be: does she want to recover her lost memories and become the person she was before, the person who seems to be stuck in a perpetual loop, or does she want to embrace the new self she has created for herself from the cloth of her trials.

Jayd, meanwhile, knows the entirety of the joint plan, but finds herself required to suppress her knowledge in order to convince Rasida that her loyalty has truly shifted from Katazyrna to Bhavaja. But as Jayd throws herself into her role as a submissive wife, she realises that she has been so successful that she is in danger of losing her autonomy entirely. And when push finally comes to shove, Jayd must decide what to make of her troubled relationship with Zan and how the pair can build a future together.

Despite having some minor issues with the pacing of the opening sections — the build-up to Zan's first assault on the Mokshi feels a bit rushed — I absolutely adored The Stars are Legion when it settled into its stride. I liked its spiky characters — hyper-talkative engineer Casimir was a particular favourite — the visceral nature of the setting — especially in the hellish recycling pit — and the way Hurley stuck the dismount at the end.

Highly recommended.

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