Under Fortunate Stars - Book Review
by Ren Hutchings
Sci-Fi (Time Travel)
I received this book as an e-arc from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. Thank you so much to Solaris for the e-arc. I totally loved this book!
Under Fortunate Stars is a space opera that completely revitalized the time travel trope for me.
Fleeing the final days of the generations-long war with the alien Felen, smuggler Jereth Keeven's freighter the Jonah breaks down in a strange rift in deep space, with little chance of rescue—until they encounter the research vessel Gallion, which claims to be from 152 years in the future.
The Gallion's chief engineer Uma Ozakka has always been fascinated with the past, especially the tale of the Fortunate Five, who ended the war with the Felen. When the Gallion rescues a run-down junk freighter, Ozakka is shocked to recognize the Five's legendary ship—and the Five's famed leader, Eldric Leesongronski, among the crew.
But nothing else about Leesongronski and his crewmates seems to match up with the historical record. With their ships running out of power in the rift, more than the lives of both crews may be at stake.
When it came to the time travel itself, it was so tightly wrought. Unlike a lot of time travel stories, where it’s someone from the near future interacting with someone from the far future, the early group was already from a future setting, so while there is some technology that’s better, it’s not a fish out of water story.
I also really liked how everyone pretty much accepted the time bubble from the get-go. Part of why I’m hesitant about time travel stories is because they usually contain the tired “omg what’s going on” part of the story for far too long. This one does not and I found it far more realistic and engaging. The way the timelines interwove also worked really well, both major aspects and minor ones. You could tell it was intricately plotted.
The setting is so well done, because we get the ships, which were fun, but also flashbacks to the Jonah’s crew in the past, on three or four planets. As such, the story didn’t feel contained to the ships but there was a more expansive world-building around it. I especially liked the “Dust worlds,” which are partially terraformed worlds that have been essentially forgotten/abandoned by the companies that made them.
Yet, one thing I could have used more of was the war with the Felen - while we’re told they are attacking places and there are battles in the past, we don’t get any of that firsthand, so the threat isn’t as apparent as it could have been. I didn’t really notice this until thinking about the book later though.
The characters are where the story really shines. Despite it not being a comedy in the slightest (there are some really intense moments), the novel has the feel of a workplace comedy. By this, I mean there is a small cast of characters - a few directors, the captain, and some engineers - and a great deal of the story is them playing off of one another. I really loved their dynamic and how the ship functioned. While it’s clear there is a hierarchy, the crew also are the type to get a drink together when the day is done.
The names were also interesting. They were not odd but felt slightly different than those we usually see. It felt to me like this was either a parallel dimension to ours, or it was so far in the future people have merged last names or created new ones, which led to this development. It also helped keep the race of the characters ambiguous, which, to me, suggested that this was a future where we’ve all kind of blended together for the most part.
There were some great brief moments of comedy in the story, which helped keep the tone exciting and not depressing or dark. Jereth, one of the Jonah’s crew, had some moments that really made me laugh. What I liked most about him was that he initially comes off as a cocky jerk, but he grows on you as the story progresses and he become one of my favourite characters.
The rest of the characters are likeable and varied. The two other main characters, directors Shaan and Ozakka, were competent and good at their jobs but had their own stories, just like Jareth and Leeg. There is a very fun and cute love story sub-plot I was totally here for. I also really liked the trajectory of Leeg’s backstory, as while it did go in a way I expected, it approached an aspect of it in a nuanced and realistic way. The alien characters were kept mainly to the sidelines, so when we did see them, it was like “ooh!”, but I didn’t feel like they were deliberately shunted to the sidelines. It was a good balance.
What’s so great about this novel is that it’s about adults and for adults, but it’s not a dark and violent story about human depravity. It’s a fun story, with serious moments, about a group of normal people facing a momentous task. Honestly, it’s a breath of fresh air and I absolutely loved it.