- The Good: Wonderfully gross world-building
- The Bad: Poor pacing at the climax and rushed plot threads, particularly the political ones
- The Literary: Alternating POVs; themes of classism, sexuality, and environmentalism
Seske Kaleigh, future matriarch of her clan and of the biological space beast they use as a starship, isn’t one for following rules. She shuns her lessons; her best friend Adalla is a lowly beast worker; and she rigs her stasis pod so she’s awakened early. The upper class only goes into stasis during a cycle of beast turnover, every decade or so, when a new beast is captured, excavated, and transformed into a habitat for her people.
There’s a lot of great world-building in this scifi. First, these humans catch giant space creatures and reconstruct their innards to create a place for them to live, from cavernous resonating cavities with their own microflora to the dangerous job of excavating a branchial heart that could wash you away every three minutes forty-seven and a half seconds. I love picturing the grafting of bone brick facades onto houses and storefronts, the acidic oozing puddles and wilted fronds of the stomach, and the collection of vapors from the gill flaps that’ll get you high. I love that this space ship is so biological, full of sticky fluids, and the message is decidedly environmentalist.
The different areas of the space beast necessitate different specialties, from lowly waste processing to physical bone work to the more prestigious organ care. Whereas all beastwork is considered low class, the different types of beastwork reinforce the societal stratification even within the lower echelons. The Lines of Matriarchy, of which Seske is at the top, are based on the African society from which their people are descended. But since space travel is such a difficult business, and sustaining a population inside a live animal is tenuous, they follow the rule of tens, in which family units consist of three men, six women, and one child.
The story unfolds in alternating POVs between Seske and Adalla, and I find the subtle slang phrases between the two work well to distinguish them. As children Seske and Adalla’s friendship wasn’t questioned—but now they’ve both hit puberty. Their coming of age expectations strain their friendship and budding romance, and they move in separate directions, mostly due to the classism of their society.
Unfortunately, the story does have a YA feel, but it does manage to keep the beast work from being to “categoried”. My biggest beef is the pacing, which loses all structure in the third act. Significant time and spatial jumps in action scenes stump the tension. But you’ll also note several unresolved plot lines or at least plotlines that are so quickly resolved they feel unsatisfying. One last note, the fantastic body horror is not for everyone, so if you can’t take the period blood rituals in the first few chapters, this book probably isn’t for you.
If you are into weird, body-horror, afro-futuristic scifi, I bet this will be right up your ventricle. Sure is sure is sure.