Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi (Tangled Axon #1)

Synopsis:

17751274Alana Quick is the best damned sky surgeon in Heliodor City, but repairing starship engines barely pays the bills. When the desperate crew of a cargo vessel stops by her shipyard looking for her spiritually advanced sister Nova, Alana stows away. Maybe her boldness will land her a long-term gig on the crew. But the Tangled Axon proves to be more than star-watching and plasma coils. The chief engineer thinks he’s a wolf. The pilot fades in and out of existence. The captain is all blond hair, boots, and ego . . . and Alana can’t keep her eyes off her. But there’s little time for romance: Nova’s in danger and someone will do anything–even destroying planets–to get their hands on her.

Review:

Are you looking for a novel with people of color… in space? How about queer people… in space? Or people dealing with chronic disease… in space?

Ding ding ding! This is your book right here. I liked it for all those reasons and more, but there are some parts I wish were done better.

First, the good:

  • A protagonist of color that’s also queer and neuroatypical. Intersectionality, we haz it.
  • The world is interesting and drew me in. There’s spaceships, different worlds, and an interesting mix of two different kinds of technology.
  • Alana is very good at her job but by no means perfect. Her failings feel natural and human. Most of the characters are well-developed with interesting motives and hang ups.
  • The Tangled Axon feels like it lives and breathes. I love it when a ship or environment becomes its own kind of character.
  • Koyanagi’s care and investment in the story comes through loud and clear. I love knowing that it was written by a neuroatypical, queer person of color – she knows of what she speaks. Little lines like this discussion about Ovie make me happy:

“He’s no small canine, that’s for sure, just like he’s no small man.”
“I don’t get it.”
She patted my leg. “You don’t have to. People don’t exist for us to get.”

And the not-so-good:

  • I feel like the author is going for science fiction with romantic elements, as they say, or science fiction with a philosophical bent. But it ends up starting as the latter with a straight up (and oddly unsatisfying) romance plopped into the middle.
  • We don’t learn a lot about Ovie and he feels more like a plot device. I get that his story is probably left to be unspooled in later books, but an air of mystery would be nice. He feels dull even though he’s a kind of man kind of wolf… guy.
  • The plot doesn’t pick up in the way you’d expect, and it stops dead in the middle for that romantic bit. I lost my interest about halfway through and it never really came back. And that thing they’re aiming for seems to be forgotten now and then, more of a general want than Important Thing We Need.
  • I have a lot of unanswered questions. The captain says they’re short on money, but how would they normally earn it? Isn’t someone due an inheritance at the end, and wouldn’t that solve everything? The tech relies on magic a bit too much for my liking, too.
  • Philosophical is cool, but conversations trip over into preachy too many times for my liking. A bit blunt and on the nose.

So as much as I wanted to outright love this book I merely like it. I do hope there’s a sequel so I can see where the characters end up and how Koyanagi’s craft evolves.

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