First Sister has no name and no voice. As a priestess of the Sisterhood, she travels the stars alongside the soldiers of Earth and Mars—the same ones who own the rights to her body and soul. When her former captain abandons her, First Sister’s hopes for freedom are dashed when she is forced to stay on her ship with no friends, no power, and a new captain—Saito Ren—whom she knows nothing about. She is commanded to spy on Captain Ren by the Sisterhood, but soon discovers that working for the war effort is so much harder to do when you’re falling in love.
Lito val Lucius climbed his way out of the slums to become an elite soldier of Venus, but was defeated in combat by none other than Saito Ren, resulting in the disappearance of his partner, Hiro. When Lito learns that Hiro is both alive and now a traitor to the cause, he now has a shot at redemption: track down and kill his former partner. But when he discovers recordings that Hiro secretly made, Lito’s own allegiances are put to the test. Ultimately, he must decide between following orders and following his heart.
Not sure what to say about this one except wow, what a ride. I’ve seen this billed as Handmaid’s Tale meets Red Rising and I have to say, that doesn’t feel too far off of a description. It’s certainly a book that has plenty of action-y things going for it while also having a TON of things to say.
This book was pretty amazing for a lot of reasons, let me count the ways. First off, the characters. The story is told from three different perspectives, that of the First Sister — a member of the Gean religious sect who is currently assigned to a recently captured and reconditioned Icarii ship, Hiro — an Icarii who has turned traitor, and Lito — Hiro’s friend, former partner, and Icarii soldier. What I loved about seeing these three different perspectives is that although they’re on different sides of a war, they’re all good people and you get to know them pretty well and understand not only where they’re coming from but it gives the story much more personal stakes. Although things are playing out on an interplanetary scale and have far reaching consequences there are also personal conflicts which must be addressed. With First Sister, I fell in love immediately. Right from the get-go she’s someone you can empathize with, suffering a crushing disappointment at the start of the story and left to wonder what her fate will be. She’s strong but she’s had to be because of what the Sisterhood has done to her. And then you have Hiro who it’s clear not only cares very deeply for Lito but also has deep convictions. Lito is someone who has been left in the dark and feels hurt, has found himself forced into an impossible situation making him choose between his feelings for Hiro and his loyalty to his government. They’re all such interesting characters and I enjoyed spending time with each of them.
Structurally, I think the book did some interesting things. It spends time going back and forth between the three characters’ POV, switching off each chapter. The only issue some people might have with that is just when you start getting into one, it will end the chapter and off you are on one of the other characters. Still, this wasn’t really a hindrance for me. I liked that it kept to these three perspectives–if this story had been told through more POV’s then I think some of the connection with the characters would have been lost. Also, keeping it to these three main characters made the story feel more tightly focused even as it bounced back and forth. I also loved how Hiro’s POV is written in second person as it’s a recording that they left for Lito to listen to–I thought that was clever and made their story feel more intimate as it’s being imparted to the reader and Lito alike. Also, at the beginning of most chapters there are epigraphs that are writings from the current Mother of the Sisterhood which I found really interesting and further flesh out the world.
Speaking of, let’s get into the world building. This story has some things that felt a little familiar. The war between planets or factions of planets after humans have colonized various parts of the solar system I’ve seen before, as well as the colonists further out (in this case around the Asteroid belt being) being so different culturally (in this case genetically as well) and being exploited by those of the inner planets that they also want to go to war with both those other factions is nothing new. That being said, the way this set up is utilized and told from a fresh perspective really works. I also LOVE how both the Geans and the Icarii are a bit dystopian. Everything is fine, don’t look behind that curtain. Believe what we tell you. You’re doing a great service to society. Your role is essential. Of course it’s all wonderfully detailed. Where Lito is from the classes are easily divided through the way the world is structured, physically. he’s worked his way up, literally. You also get glimpses of the elite classes from Hiro’s perspective. And then there’s the Geans. Well, what’s with this religion anyway? Let’s just put it on the table–the Sisterhood is fucked up. Girls are basically sold to it as children and then they’re turned into sex slaves, basically. What the what. Yeah….that’s messed up.
Anyway, the worlds here are very fleshed out and I appreciated that. You can also see a lot of influences. I immediately thought while reading this, especially as the Ironskins are shown in action (a sort of metal suit that some fighters go inside to pilot), that this is an author who is a fan of anime. Obviously. I also loved that whenever Japanese was spoken in the book it was written in Japanese and not with the latin alphabet. There were things about the world that were really cool and interesting and other things that made you uncomfortable or cringe in horror. I think that’s a pretty good sign of a well thought out world.
As for what this book has to say, well, it’s a lot. Everything from consent, bodily autonomy, colonization, to oppression is touched on here. It gives you a lot to think about for sure. I do wonder if it may be trying to say too much but so far I’m along for this ride and interested to see where things go in further books. Overall, I really loved this story. It kept me engaged and even though I did manage to figure out at least one plot twist there were still some surprises for me along the way. Looking forward to the next one! 4.5/5 stars.