Mary Robinette Kowal
Completed 12/3/2023, Reviewed 12/3/2023
This was an okay book by a writer who has written some terrific stuff, including the Hugo and Nebula Award winning The Calculating Stars. It’s a murder mystery aboard a spaceship traveling between the Moon and Mars during the ultra-rich main character’s honeymoon. Reading this book felt like a throwaway, kind of fun, kind of suspenseful, a little science fiction-ish; certainly not up to par with the Lady Astronaut series. The best part about the book was the characterization. I didn’t get lost in the number of characters and there was a cute service dog that distracted me when the plot got boring. I’m guessing this got a 2023 Hugo nomination on the strength of her previous books rather than on the quality of this one. Of the four of the six nominees I read so far, this one was the weakest.
The main character is Tesla Crane, a brilliant engineer and one of the richest people in the world. She’s on her honeymoon with the new husband. Tesla was in a horrible space accident that left her permanently in pain from a severe spinal injury. Fortunately, she has a device implanted in her that can prevent her from feeling the pain. She sets it to varying levels depending on how much she needs her sense of touch. She has an extremely cute service dog that everyone falls in love with. On this trip, she’s using a digital masking device so she’s not recognized and swamped by fans. Everything goes smoothly until someone is murdered and she and her husband are first on the scene. The ship’s inept security suspect her retired private detective husband and take him into custody. Tesla’s mission is to prove her husband’s innocence and find the killer before they strike again.
The characterization was quite good. I had clear pictures and impressions of most of the characters. The story is told from Tesla’s perspective in third person. Through her we see the inept security team, the other ultra-rich passengers, her super-intense lawyer, and several of the service employees. Almost everyone of these characters in her eyes is a suspect. And she’s out to find out who the murderer is. She’s really a good character: determined, independent, successful despite being in paralyzing pain.
I also really liked how the author portrayed Tesla’s PTSD. It was very enlightening. It included a terrible flashback and Tesla’s process for staying grounded. The PTSD was the reason for Gimlet, her adorable service dog. Gimlet could sense when the panic attacks were coming on and helped ground her as well. Of the things that were right about this book, this was probably the most profound.
What I didn’t like about the book was that it felt like a standard murder mystery. I don’t know how mystery fans would like this book, but I was often bored. I didn’t feel like the story moved well until the last hundred pages or so. I liked bits and pieces, like the introductions and interactions with some of the suspects. I liked that the some of the suspects were guilty of other things, making them look suspicious. But the time between these was not fast-paced.
I give this book three stars out of five. It was okay, but nothing special. The prose was nice and world building decent. The spacecraft’s concept was interesting, with different levels having different gravities: Earth’s, Mars’, and the Moon’s. Also, the descriptions of the Coriolis effect on movement in the ship were interesting. But it just didn’t work as a whole for me. I found myself not really motivated to finish the book until the last quarter, and that because I just wanted to know who the murderer was.