Bluebird (Book Review)
by Ciel Pierlot
I am part of Angry Robot's Book Tour for the novel, so thank you to the publisher for the e-arc!
There are no spoilers in this book review!
Honestly, this is what fun space opera should be like. Fun, interesting characters, a vibrant world-building that’s easy to understand but is still complex, entertaining action, the right amount of humour, and a hint of poignancy.
What is Bluebird about?
Lesbian gunslinger fights spies in space!
Three factions vie for control of the galaxy. Rig, a gunslinging, thieving, rebel with a cause, doesn’t give a damn about them and she hasn’t looked back since abandoning her faction three years ago.
That is, until her former faction sends her a message: return what she stole from them, or they’ll kill her twin sister.
Rig embarks on a journey across the galaxy to save her sister – but for once she’s not alone. She has help from her network of resistance contacts, her taser-wielding librarian girlfriend, and a mysterious bounty hunter.
If Rig fails and her former faction finds what she stole from them, trillions of lives will be lost--including her sister's. But if she succeeds, she might just pull the whole damn faction system down around their ears. Either way, she’s going to do it with panache and pizzazz.
I really enjoyed the world-building of this book. I’m not going to get into all the details, as discovering it is part of the fun, but there are three main factions of humanity and aliens, as well as the vagabonds who refuse to participate in the societal setup. These factions are involved in a millennia-long cold war and all three have major disadvantages to living under them. One aspect that is integral to the story but not belaboured is Rig’s status as an oppressed alien living under the one system. Her people have had their culture and much more strangled by one of the factions.
Yes, Rig is an alien. She’s blue, bald, and wears a headscarf. There are also other alien races, such as Zazra, who are empaths (if they touch you with their palms) and a few others. Now, unless my brain isn’t remembering, there aren’t any really weird aliens in this novel, like cephalopods or something; everyone is humanoid. I liked this convergent evolution approach because having non-humanoid aliens would have bogged down the rest of the story.
I really liked the characters though I didn’t love them; they were lacking a complexity that kept them from feeling like people and not just characters. I really enjoyed though how Rig is a tough and determined mercenary with a heart of gold, but she’s also not impervious to damage. She’s a good shot and scrappy fighter, but she also doesn’t have superhero-level strength or skills. She fell in over her head at times and often she relied on help from Ginka, the aforementioned mysterious bounty hunter who does have these skills. The side characters, like June and the antagonists, fit their roles, but there was something there that kept me from finding them entirely three-dimensional.
I enjoyed that Rig already had an established relationship (as much as I love a good ship) and their story was about whether they could move forward with said relationship despite disparate lifestyles. We don’t often see this - usually, it’s a relationship starting out.
The side plot with X-74 could have used far more scenes, though I very much enjoyed these sections. The trajectory of that storyline was pretty obvious, but I liked that plot so it didn’t bother me.
Speaking of plot, I liked how the novel didn’t go where I was expecting for the most part. Betrayals I expected didn’t happen and small events from earlier in the novel came back to have relevance later. I also liked the technology - “hard” vs “light” particle weapons weren’t really explained but they didn't need to be: this was not a hard sci-fi by any means so I liked the pseudo-explanation for things. The world-building is very easy to understand.
When it came to the writing itself, it took me a bit to adjust to the casual prose, such as phrases like, “big honkin’ megalopolis.” I didn’t dislike these, I just wasn’t used to it. The balance to which they were used, and only when the pov was focused on Rig, worked for me in the end.
I really recommend this novel. It’s a great book for those used to space opera and those new to sci-fi, it’s a lot of fun, it has a great message about systemic oppression, and, if you need more convincing: forbidden romance and a big fancy library.