Let me start with the tl;dr of this review: I really enjoyed the story of this book, but there are certain aspects of it that are going to make it flat-out unreadable for certain people, including my wife, so that’s kind of tempering my reaction to it and it’ll be really interesting to see how much of it sticks with me in a month or two.
One of the pull quotes on the back of this book describes it as Casablanca meets The Magnificent Seven meets The Mandalorian, and that’s … pretty astonishingly accurate, honestly, although it was a miss to choose The Magnificent Seven and not Seven Samurai, the movie Magnificent Seven was based on, since Seven Samurai is an Akira Kurosawa movie and the main spaceship in this movie is actually called the Kurosawa. If that mix of things– seedy bars, bounty hunters, big guns, combat mechs, corrupt government and law enforcement and a small team of people fighting back against an overwhelming force, plus aliens— appeals to you, then this book is going to be right the hell up your alley, and while I hadn’t actually seen that blurb when I bought the book, it would have immediately sold me a copy. That’s not up my alley. That’s my entire fucking alley, and this is a very Star Wars kind of science fiction, where we’re not worried about the science so much as it’s set in space and there are laser guns and giant mechs and AI and talking space ships and aliens. Honestly, it hit me at about the halfway point that this very easily could have been a Benevolence Archives story with a couple of minor setting tweaks. That’s a compliment, in case it’s not clear; anytime I read a book and think Damn, I wish I’d written this, it’s a good thing.
And all the main characters are women or nonbinary– yes, all of them; I don’t think there’s a single male in the book who gets more than a handful of lines– and not quite everybody is gay, I suppose, but a lot of them are, and it’s all delightful.
It occurs to me that it’s not impossible that what has happened here is that somebody fucked up and sent the ARC version of the story to the printers. Because there are parts of this book– published by an imprint of Simon & Schuster, mind you, not an indie title or a small press– that very clearly did not have the attention of an editor. There is the occasional hugely clunky sentence, the type that every author produces from time to time, where you accidentally switch tense or something halfway through, but you notice it during editing. There are misspelled words. There are misused homophones from time to time. There is the occasional word that is simply the wrong word, like that word doesn’t mean that and doesn’t belong in that sentence. It’s not constant– more like once every handful of chapters, although I remember at least one three-page run with multiple errors packed closely together– but it happens often enough that I’m really surprised this book came from a big press. And the book is 500 pages long, so “every handful of chapters” is still a good number of times. Stina Leicht isn’t famous enough to have gotten the Stephen King/George RR Martin treatment where the “editors” are barely doing a pass on her books and otherwise she can write whatever she likes. And the book’s not badly written— where it works, it really works, and these are the sorts of errors that nearly every manuscript is going to have from time to time, and the type of thing that I’m used to seeing in ARCs, which often aren’t final copy. But this is final copy, so somebody dropped the ball somewhere, and if you’re the type of person who is going to be knocked out of the book by that, you’ll want to stay away.
I am 100% in for more from this author in the future (and, to be clear, this isn’t her debut) and I would love to see more of these characters, but this is a one-shot as far as I know, and the story ends satisfyingly. But the bad editing is a thing, and it’ll be interesting to see whether I remember this better in six months for having really enjoyed the story or all the mistakes I noticed.