Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Magic Roadtrips, Graceful Space Opera, and a Bleak Take on Star Wars

I’ve a grab-bag assortment of things to talk about this time. Including some Star Wars.

Cast in Deception is the latest novel in Michelle Sagara’s long-running Chronicles of Elantra series. The Chronicles of Elantra stars Kaylin Neya, a private in the Hawks—the police force of the city of Elantra—who consistently finds herself at the centre of cataclysmic events. Over the course of the series, she’s gathered around herself a wide variety of friends and allies, from the last living female Dragon to a set of peculiar young Barrani (an immortal race—think elves, and not the friendly kind), and the only Barrani Lord in the Hawks. In Cast in Deception, Kaylin’s current Barrani houseguests get her involved in their problems, and magic, politics, and found family all tangle together in a story about growth and trust and unwanted roadtrips.

This isn’t a good place to start the series: I’d advise any newcomers to start with the second book. (The first is good, but it has more of a fantasy romance feel than is actually true of the series.) But as fun, fast, fantastically well-characterised fantasy series? Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra just goes from strength to strength, and I’m really looking forward to seeing it keep going.

In From Ruins, M.C.A. Hogarth finally wraps up her Princes’ Game series. From Ruins is book six of a series set in a space opera universe that started dark and got darker before it started exploring the nature of violence, violation, exploitation, oppression, redemption, responsibility and kindness. As a series, the Princes’ Game has been doing a lot of work on a thematic level, and From Ruins has quite a lot of work to do all on its own, to wrap up several deep and important thematic arguments, bring a large collection of plot threads together, and resolve the interconnected individual storylines of the main characters in a suitably satisfying fashion.

It’s not surprising that it doesn’t succeed in all of its ambitions, but the real surprise is how close it comes. There are moments of terror and moments of grace, great losses and greater victories, triumphant reunions and difficult ethical dilemmas. I’ve discovered, unexpectedly, that Hogarth’s books are strangely comforting. They make for good space opera—with feelings, and lots of angst.

Speaking of space opera with angst: Beth Revis’s Star Wars tie-in, Star Wars: Rebel Rising. A prequel to the Star Wars: Rogue One film, Rebel Rising isn’t all that full of space opera, really. There are no space battles, very few interesting firefights, and no grand narratives. It has angst in abundance, though: Rebel Rising’s the story of kid—Jyn Erso—who sees her mother die and believes her father has abandoned her. Raised by the paranoid and obsessive partisan Saw Gerrera, she grows up isolated, with many violent skills and few personal connections. When Saw leaves her behind after a mission gone wrong, she makes her own way in the galaxy—but the personal connections she does make end up dead, caught between the Empire and one or another group of rebels. At last, backed into a corner, she finds herself forced to carry out the instructions of an imperial admiral, and infiltrate and betray a group of rebels or die herself. This job ends with her in the prison where the Rogue One film opens on its adult Jyn.

The overall tone of Rebel Rising is one of despair, in which both sides of the conflict—the Empire and Saw’s partisans—are almost as bad as each other. (Though on the Empire’s side, there’s never any sense that there are good people trapped in a terrible system. And terrible systems don’t survive without the support of good people who can’t see another way forward for themselves that doesn’t involve propping those terrible systems up.) It’s darker and less hopeful even than Rogue One, since it can’t end on Rogue One‘s note of hope. That makes it a hard novel to enjoy, although Revis does a really good job with Jyn’s characterisation and especially her alienation and longing for connection.

I want my space opera to be just a little less bleak than this.

What are you guys reading lately?

Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, is out now from Aqueduct Press. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.

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