Summary: (5/5 stars) This is a great sci-fi romp with colorful characters, lots of adventure and intrigue. The world-building is intricate without getting too nerdy and even though there’s a strong element of “social justice” throughout, I didn’t feel like it got too preachy. I also appreciate that although this is very clearly a first book in a series, it feels complete. I could read just this one and not feel like I’m missing anything. But I enjoyed the characters and the universe, so I will very likely come back to the other books in the series.
SPOILER WARNING: From this point forward, I’m going to discuss this book without any concern about spoilers. So, if you don’t like spoilers you should stop reading now.
The Wayfarer is a clunky old spaceship hired to burrow wormholes in the galaxy. It’s not one of those big, fancy models, so they usually get low-end jobs until one day they’re hired to dig a hole in a new territory in order to connect a new race of alien to the rest of mainstream galactic society. This book follows its colorful crew of humans and aliens as they hire a new clerk with a mysterious past of her own and take on this new job that could either kill them all or set them up with wealth they hadn’t previously contemplated. Unfortunately, it looks a lot like it will probably just kill them.
This book is great because it has fun, likable characters, strong non-humanoid aliens, elaborate world-building, and great adventures. Every member of the crew has an interesting backstory that slowly unfolds as you make your way through the book and understanding those stories requires understanding the intricate social structures of their alien cultures and the galactic context in which they live. They’re funny and emotional, smart and creative, earnest and decisive. I really love them all.
The plot of the book is not very complicated in my opinion. That’s neither good nor bad in itself. The author makes good use of her characters and sci-fi tropes, so it ends up being a straight-forward and enjoyable romp across the galaxy.
The only area where I think this book will find significant criticism is around the recurring “social justice” elements. Characters of unknown gender are referred to as “xir” and “xim.” Two characters enter into a non-monogamous, lesbian, sexual relationship not out of romantic love, but familial love. (You have to read the book to understand that.) There are repeated references to the ills of racism and gender bias. And there are several lamentations over social ills brought about by senseless bigotry.
Personally, I did not find these elements terribly troublesome. I imagine that in a universe where these types of aliens exist in a galaxy-spanning society, these issues are likely to come up and a set of manners to avoid annoying one another would come about. So, I was able to get past it and just enjoy the story.
The other complaint I have is very minor: the conclusion is VERY rushed! We spend so much time watching the crew on various adventures and then suddenly they’re getting blown up, one of them dies, and the end, thanks. I realize the explanation for the sudden and inevitable betrayal is coming in subsequent books in the series, but as a reader of this first book I felt rushed through that part. It’s both a clever way to set up the sequel and a shock to the invested reader.
Overall, I found this to be a fun, lighthearted sci-fi adventure with great characters and a rich universe. Highly recommended.