Review: The Stars are Legion
After the high of reading THE LIGHT BRIGADE (EBR Review), I was really looking forward to diving into some more story from this author. Everywhere I looked, people seemed to be talking about her and how “out there” her stuff is. It’s weird and new and her’s is a voice that needs to be heard. I love imagination and wonder. It’s one of the reasons why I love Science Fiction so much. In fact, it’s probably why I like good Science Fiction even more than good Fantasy. But before any of that, the story has to be well told through some solid characters. Because without those two things, imagination and wonder just don’t matter.
THE STARS ARE LEGION (Amazon) is the most-recent stand-alone novel by author Kameron Hurley other than THE LIGHT BRIGADE. Still only a couple years old. It’s definitely a weird one from the get-go, and with it being a stand-alone novel, everything had to be built from the ground up, so we get a lot of it. So, logically, it makes sense that the first time we see anything in this new near fully organic world of the Legion, it’s through the eyes of a character that has lost their memory.
The organic worldships of the Legion inhabit an empty space between the stars where the planets that we are otherwise familiar with are not. Those inhabiting these ships have been waging a war against each other for generations that has never come to a clear resolution, and is quickly becoming an imperative as so many of these worlds are decaying and dying. Inhabiting the ships are… I’m going to call them individuals (although throughout the book they’re all referred to as women) that live on one of a large number of nested levels. Only those that live on the outer surfaces of the ships are aware of the other ships of the Legion though and perhaps even the war that is occurring between them. The inhabitants are more some variant of asexual beings, as only the single “sex” is ever referred to and birthing new beings feels almost spontaneous. (Unless, of course, you count the worldship as a male that continually impregnates them all, as there are several mentions of how they are all birthing pieces to replace parts of the world that are failing…) Overall, it’s just really odd, but that’s the author’s shtick, I guess.
Zan is a warrior inhabiting the planetship of Katazyrna. She awakes to realize that she has no memories of the ship or what she is doing there. Another character named Jayd (the second POV through which the story is told) approaches her early, and tries to help her through the travail of memory loss. Zan is told that she has led numerous sorties against the Legion worldship of the Mokshi, in an attempt to control that healthy world and those that live on it, but she keeps failing. Her most recent failure has come at the hands of the Bhavajas, another member of the Legion. Jayd is only willing to tell Zan so much about her past though, and begs her to be satisfied so that her past doesn’t drive her mad.
Jayd, a very attractive specimen of their species, also tells the reader very little about anything either. We soon find out, however, that she’s working with motives ulterior to that of the Lord Katazyrna, and in the fallout of her attempts to reach an unspecified goal, Zan is “recycled” (sent down a chute into the interior of the worldship to have her organic parts used for another purpose) by the Lord Katazyrna, and Jayd is married off to the scion of the Bhavajas.
You likely picked up on it already (my frustration leaking out early, I’m afraid), but fully half of the novel is “told” to us by a character that holds everything back from the reader until the point in the plot at which it makes most narrative sense to relay that information. Ugh. Add to this the fact that the other half of the story is told from a character that has no memory of who she is. So, our two characters are one that knows nothing and one that tells us nothing. It was ridiculously frustrating for me as a reader. Jayd constantly references “the things she’s done” and “what she’s trying to do”. In fact, the overwhelmingly large majority of the history and motivations and relationships of the various characters all comes out in the last 25 pages or so. I laughed pretty heartily when one of the characters involved in that final reveal stated something along the lines of, “I don’t understand.”
HINT TO ALL AUTHORS: If your characters are saying that they don’t understand, then your readers are likely not going to understand either. This does not give you license to push past that point and get away with it.
For those of you that are regular readers here, you’ll know that, for me, character is of supreme importance. And of the two POV characters in the story, neither one of them relays ANYTHING that even closely resembles character throughout the entirety of the book.
THE STARS ARE LEGION is a recipe in frustration that fulfills neither the wonder that science fiction should contain nor the character that makes story good
Nominally, the best possible part of this book should have been the “adventure” story of Zan as she avoids the dangers of the sub-levels of Katazyrna and makes her way back to the surface and finally understanding everything. Why? I’m not sure, but that’s how Zan kept referring to her journey. One of the big issues with this is the very shallow worldbuilding relayed in the story. We get occasional newness among all of the organic technology found throughout the world, and then one or two pieces connected to that newness to make it feel “complete”. Then the story moves on. Descriptions of Zan’s surroundings are scarce at best and closer to non-existent in most parts of the story. There are continual issues with distance and proximity. Spaces that are described as large feel ridiculously small at times. Reminded me of that scene in The Force Awakens when Han and Finn break into the huge Death-Star-Variant planet killer thing and find Rey almost immediately. The chances of such occurrences are mind-bogglingly small enough so as to make them non-existent. Many things here felt very similar. Granted, the only part of the story that really kept me from giving this book a “Hate” rating was the newness and weirdness though. I mean, hey, it’s a Science Fiction story, so that stuff has to count for something, right?
One thing stands for certain. If I’d picked this book up first, instead of THE LIGHT BRIGADE, I highly doubt that I’d ever have picked up anything by this author ever again. That’s how much of a waste of my time this story felt to me. Doesn’t matter how new or imaginative or exploratory or novel or important or whatever the setting/plot/story is, I just couldn’t care less about it because there was NO CHARACTER anywhere in the book.
As is, I’m still going to think pretty hard before ever picking anything up by her again. You should too. If this is the kind of story that she likes to tell, then someone else that can look past its faults can have the pleasure of reading it.
- Recommended Age: 14+
- Language: Not much but strong
- Violence: Some soldier-like deaths, grisly creature deaths, and some gore
- Sex: Strong references and one quick scene