A Kirkus Reviews Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Selection of 2017
“[A] thought-provoking space opera.” —Kirkus Reviews
“One of the most unusual and powerfully disturbing space operas we’re likely to see this year.” —Chicago Tribune
Set within a system of decaying world-ships travelling through deep space, this breakout novel of epic science fiction follows a pair of sisters who must wrest control of their war-torn legion of worlds—and may have to destroy everything they know in order to survive.
Somewhere on the outer rim of the universe, a mass of decaying world-ships known as the Legion is traveling in the seams between the stars. Here in the darkness, a war for control of the Legion has been waged for generations, with no clear resolution.
Zan wakes with no memory, prisoner of a people who say there are her family. She is told she is their salvation, the only person capable of boarding the Mokshi, a world-ship with the power to leave the Legion. But Zan’s new family is not the only one desperate to gain control of the prized ship. Zan finds that she must choose sides in a genocidal campaign that will take her from the edges of the Legion’s gravity well to the very belly of the world.
In the tradition of Iain M. Banks’s Culture novels and Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber, Kameron Hurley has created an epic and thrilling tale about tragic love, revenge, and war as imagined by one of our most celebrated new writers.
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The Stars Are Legion
“THERE IS NOTHING I FEAR MORE THAN SOMEONE WITHOUT MEMORY. A PERSON WITHOUT MEMORY IS FREE TO DO ANYTHING SHE LIKES.”
—LORD MOKSHI, ANNALS OF THE LEGION
I remember throwing away a child.
That’s the only memory I know for certain is mine. The rest is a gory blackness. All I have, then, are the things I’ve been told are true:
My name is Zan.
I once commanded a great army.
My mission was to destroy a world that does not exist.
I’m told my army was scattered, or eaten, or blown apart into a thousand twinkling bits of debris, and I went missing.
I don’t know why I’d ever want to lead an army—especially a losing one—but I’m told I spent my life pushing hard to get to the rank and skill I attained. And when I came back, spit out by the world or wrenched free of my own will, I came back wrong. What wrong means I don’t know yet, only that it’s also resulted in my lack of memory.
The first face I see when I wake each period in my sickbed is full-lipped and luminous, like looking into the face of some life-giving sun. The woman says her name is Jayd, and it is she who has told me all I know to be true. When I ask, now, why there is a dead body on the floor behind her, she only smiles and says, “There are many bodies on the world,” and I realize the words for world and ship are nearly identical. I don’t know which she used.
When I wake next, the body is gone, and Jayd is bustling around me. She helps me sit up for the first time. I marvel at the dark bruises on the insides of my arms and legs. A broad scar cuts my belly in two, low near my groin, and there is something strange about my left hand; it’s clearly smaller than the right. When I try to make a fist, it closes only halfway, like a tortured claw. When I slide to the floor, I discover that the bottoms of my feet are mostly numb. Jayd does not give me time to examine them as she pulls a porous, draping robe over my shoulders. It’s the same cut and heft as hers, only dark green to her blue.
“It’s time for your first debriefing,” Jayd says as I try to make sense of my injuries. She takes my hand and leads me from the room, down a dark, pulsing corridor. I squint. I see that our entwined hands are the same tawny color, but her skin is much softer than mine.
“You were gone for a half-dozen turns,” she says, and she sits me down beside her in a room off the corridor. I stare at my palms, trying to open and close my hands. If I work at it, I can get the left to close a bit more. The room, like the corridors, is a warm, glistening space with walls that throb like a beating heart. Jayd smooths the dark hair from my brow with comforting fingers, the movement as reverent and well practiced as a prayer.
“We thought you dead,” she says, “recycled.”
“Recycled into what?” I say, but the wall blooms open, the door unfurling like a flower, and an older woman beckons us inside, and Jayd ignores my question.
Jayd and I go after her and sit on a damp bench on one side of the great plain of a table. The woman sits across from us. Patterns move over the surface of the table, though whether they are writing or purely decorative or something else entirely, I don’t know. The more I look at them, the more my head throbs. I touch my temple, only to find that my fingers come away sticky with viscous lubricant or salve. I trace my finger along the ridge of a long scar that runs from the edge of my left brow to the curl of my left ear. I have still not seen my own face. I have encountered no reflective surfaces. There is indeed something very wrong here, but I don’t think it’s me.
“I’m Gavatra,” the older woman says, her voice a low rumble. Her black hair is shorn short against her dark scalp, revealing four long scars like scratch marks on the side of her head. She wears a long, durable garment of shiny blue fabric, like something excreted from the walls. It’s all held together with intricate knotted ties. She peers into my face and sighs. “Do you know who you are?”
Jayd says, “It’s the same as all the other times.”
“Other times?” I say, because how many times can one lose an army and get eaten by a ship and come back with injuries like these and live?
Jayd gazes deeply into my eyes, desperately searching my face for something. She has a broad, intense face with sunken eyes, and a bold beak of nose. I feel I should know or understand something from her look, but my memory is a hot, sticky void. I intuit nothing. I flex my hands again.
“Eight hundred and six of your sisters have tried to board the Mokshi,” Gavatra says, tapping her fingers across the surface of the table. The patterns change, and she scrutinizes them as if scrying. “You’re the only one who ever comes out, Zan. This appears to be why Lord Katazyrna keeps sending you there, despite the fact that you’ve never successfully led an army inside. Only yourself.”
“The Mokshi,” I say. “The world that doesn’t exist?”
“Yes,” Jayd says. “You remember?” Hopeful or doubtful?
I shake my head. The phrase means nothing to me. It has simply surfaced. “How many times has this happened to me?” I say. My left hand trembles, and I gaze at it as if it belongs to someone else. It occurs to me that maybe it once did, and that chills me. I want to know what’s happened to my memory, and why there was a body on the floor in my sick room, and why I threw away a child. But I know they aren’t going to be pretty answers.
“You are blessed of the War God, sister mine,” Jayd says, but she is looking at Gavatra as she says it. It’s like being a child again, stuck in a room with people who have a deep history between them; too deep and complicated for a child to fathom. Even more curious is that if Jayd is really my sister, then the feeling that stirs my gut when she twines her fingers in my hair is entirely wrong.
I lift my gaze to Gavatra and firm my jaw. A grim purpose fills me. “I wish to know what happened to me,” I say. “You can tell me or have me wrest it from you.” I can make both hands into fists now. That action feels more natural than anything I’ve done so far.
Gavatra barks out a laugh. She swipes at the table and pulls a nest of dancing lights from its surface and into the air. I watch them tangle above her, fascinated. She swipes them back onto another part of the table.
“You’re fulfilling your duty to your mother, the Lord of Katazyrna,” Gavatra says, “as are we all. But perhaps Jayd is right this time. Perhaps it’s time we retire you.”
“I feel you owe me a memory,” I say.
“Then you must retake the Mokshi,” Gavatra says. “We don’t have your memory here. That ship ate it. It seems to eat it every time. You want your memory, you take the Mokshi . . . and get a squad in there with you this time.”
“I will go again, then,” I say.
“Mother can’t afford to risk another squad,” Jayd says, “not with the Bhavajas lying in wait for us in orbit around the Mokshi. The Bhavajas have taken another ship since you’ve been gone, Zan.”
“What’s a Bhavaja?” I say.
Gavatra rolls her eyes. “These cycles get tiring,” she says.
“They are the greatest enemy of our family,” Jayd says. “A family we have been feuding with since Mother was a child. It’s only a matter of time before they take the Mokshi out from under us too. Maybe even all the Katazyrna ships.” This time, I am sure she says ship and not world, because taking an entire world seems impossible.
“The Mokshi has destroyed a good many people,” Gavatra says. “Your mother will just steal more from some other distressed world. If Zan is ready to assault the Mokshi again, I won’t deny her.”
Jayd slumps in her chair, defeated. Am I something to be fought over and won? “This is a foolish enterprise,” Jayd says. “It’s just as likely that Zan will die as it is she’ll retrieve her memory. Some of it comes back without you going to the Mokshi, Zan. If you stay—”
“No,” I say. I press my finger against the long ridge of the scar on my face again. “I would like to finish what’s been started.”
Gavatra waves her hand over the table, and the patterns of light fade, revealing the table surface for what it is: a smooth, stitched-together canvas of human skin.
I jerk up from the bench. The trembling in my arm becomes a spasm, and I lash out and smash the wall. The wall gives under my fist, as if I’ve mashed it into a lung. When I pull my hand away, it is moist. My body begins to shake; my breath comes hard and fast.
Jayd wraps her arms around me. “Hush, it will pass,” she says.
I feel as if I’m watching my body from a great height, unable to contain or control it. The panic is a monstrous thing. My body is trying to fight or flee, and I can’t allow it to do either until I understand what’s happening here. The attack is so sudden, so consuming, that it terrifies me.
Gavatra snorts and stands. “She’s going to pop again,” Gavatra says, and she scratches at the scars on her head.
My heart hammers loudly in my chest. A dark and twisted impulse seizes me; an uncoiling of everything I have held back while pushed and prodded in my sick room.
I leap across the table and take Gavatra by the throat. We collide with the wall and fall into a tangle on the floor. Gavatra writhes beneath me, gasping like a dying woman, and perhaps she is. As I straddle her and look at my hands, I fear my weaker left is not up to the task of strangling a woman to death.
I bare my teeth at Gavatra. “I do not believe a word of what you have told me,” I say.
Gavatra twists my weaker arm. Pain rushes through me, blinding my panic. She head-butts me in the face, so fast and unexpected that I reel back in shock as much as pain, clutching at my face as blackness judders across my vision.
Jayd rushes between me and Gavatra. She slides across the floor to wrap me again in her arms, as if I am a prize animal gone feral.
Gavatra uses the table to lever herself up. She rubs at her throat and gives a wry grin. “Perhaps there is something of the old Zan in this one,” she says.
“My memory!” I say.
“You fool,” Gavatra says. “You have no idea what a gift that loss is for you.” And then Gavatra smiles, her wrinkles deepening, her face cavernous in the dim light. “The truth is worse than you can possibly imagine.”
“Get me out of here,” I say. The panic is subsiding now, but the pulsing walls feel closer, as if the room itself is going to swallow me whole.
Jayd presses her cheek to mine. I take a fistful of her hair and squeeze gently. “Who are you, really?” I whisper.
I feel her mouth turn up at the corners. “I am your sister, Zan mine.”
And I smile in turn because my face is throbbing, and a trickle of blood runs from my nose, and I remember my other injuries. I have two choices here: to fight them and risk being recycled—whatever that is—or to go along with it, to give them what they want, and figure out where my memory has really gone and why these people are going to so much trouble to pretend I am their kin.
“I’m afraid,” I say, and that is partly the truth. I am afraid of what I am going to have to do to this person who claims she is my sister, but who I want to take into my arms and fuck until the world ends.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Rated 3.5 of 5 I know that Kameron Hurley is among a new wave of writers much-lauded for originality and story-telling prowess. I've only read two books by Hurley before this, with mixed reactions to both. Here, somewhere in deep space exist a series of world-ships that have been at war with one another for hundreds of years. From the war(s) and basic neglect, the world-ships are decaying and soon to be at a point of no return if something isn't done about it, but most are too busy fighting to give the worlds themselves much thought. Anat, the leader of one war-torn ship, and a feared fighter, wants peace and so she offers her daughter in marriage to a rival. That daughter, Jayd, is also a feared fighter and had hoped to lead the armies in her mother's name to victory. Now she'll be a consort to the enemy. And so Jayd pins her hopes on her sister, Zan (a pacifist), to lead the world's best fighters to victory. The opening sentence... then the opening paragraph ... then the opening chapter, took my breath away. Hurley drops us into the action, leaving us to figure out what's happening while we're on a wild ride. These warriors appear to come back to life after dying in fierce battles, though their memory of events prior are often lost and slow to recover and it is up to those around them to usher them back into their old lives. Aside from giving us an exciting ride the moment we open the pages, Hurley provides us with a glimpse of the world-building that she's creating here and we immediately know that the rules are different here. It's a brilliant set-up and Hurley does this as well as anyone in the business. The book is told from different points of view. Sometimes Zan and sometimes Jayd. This is not a device that I enjoy, and it is made a little more challenging here because the chapters don't alternate on a regular interval. While Hurley is really spectacular at getting our attention and bringing us into her very unique world in the early goings of the book, I find that she often lets me down in the middle portions. I get bored and tend to feel I am getting a great deal of repeat story. I stopped caring about Zan and Jayd for a bit but then got back into it as we neared the end. This is not unique to this book as I've felt this way with other Hurley novels as well. Looking for a good book? The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley shows us why Hurley is an exciting fantasy author, but the story does drag for a bit in the middle. I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
A worthy and original space opera, The Stars Are Legion is a gripping tale of deception, identity, and camaraderie that transcends space and time. Badass warriors fight over the scraps of a dying fleet of ship-planets, braving the vacuum of space with spray-on suits and cephalopod guns as they ride into battle on gigantic caterpillar-like creatures. If you haven't figured it out by now, this book is weird. Super-weird. And I LOVE IT! The dual-protagonist structure serves to keep the novel from sinking under the weight of relentless mystery while also providing tension whenever one of the two gets themselves into a tight jam (which is often). The author indulges her tendency to merge science fiction and fantasy elements and she does it skillfully and effectively. The end result feels alien and yet familiar at the same time. Fair warning, there is a healthy sprinkling of grimdark elements throughout the book, so if you are easily grossed out then you should avoid reading this on an empty stomach. Long story short: fascinating story, mind-blowing setting, amazing characters, great novel.
I am not sure how to review this book without giving anything away. At first you are not sure what is going on. Partially because the POV character doesn't know what is going on. It is like nothing I have ever read before. It is definitely not for the squeamish. The worldbuilding required for this book was intense. This is an alternate world SciFi novel. The world in it has the same laws of Physics but that is about all. The characters are all so well written that you can truly understand (eventually) why they do the things they do. Not just the main characters but also the secondary and even tertiary characters. The settings in the book are varied and amazingly wrought. I have not read any of her other work (though I own a few) but I will remedy that soon.
This may be the one fans have been waiting for to use to recruit new fans. This story highlights Hurley's world-building talent with its squishy, squelching tramp through the vistas of the many underworlds of Katazyrna while sparing us (some of) her gorier imaginings. Excellent storytelling, by the way, with a nice quest to uncover what the world is all about and some good character development with a hero you can actually like without feeling guilty this time.
Sorry but I was totally lost and turned off. Couldn't even bring myself to finish it before I was buying a different book.