The day was due to be stressful enough when the only order of business was impressing a restaurant critic. One exploding space station later, winning a Nikkelin Orb will have to wait – assuming Captain Niko Larson and her crew can survive a petulant bioship, a vengeful pirate king and a side of imperial politics…
Ever finished a book and wondered why it didn’t work for you?
On paper, You Sexy Thing sounds like my jam: a rollercoaster space opera in which an infamous officer retires on a technicality from a military organisation that would like to put her brain in a jar, and must strive to stay one step ahead of her former commanders and a vengeful space pirate. It features a dazzling array of aliens, found family, murder ballet and an organic sentient spaceship (the eponymous Thing) who wants to learn to cook.
The plot trips along through a series of escalating events interspersed with character-building flashbacks and heartwarming team bonding. It takes an unexpectedly darker turn (the pirate king is a big fan of an ‘and I torture you to death last, my dear’ dish of ice-cold revenge), but if it’s not cosy, it’s certainly not grim. Plus it has a deep respect for what you can do with an aubergine.
Yet for some reason I didn’t get drawn in.
I coasted through, less engaged than I expected or wanted to be. I put this down primarily to the use of omniscient POV; Rambo wields it competently, but this isn’t a long book and there’s a lot of action. In the absence of a first person or deep third person narration, there’s very little time for any of the characters to acquire more than a suggestion of deeper currents that never really surface. I ended up feeling that the characters lacked depth, and that Atlanta’s idolisation of Niko and affection for the Thing were unearned.
The subplots also felt under-served. While I loved the entirely unexpected truth behind Atlanta’s appearance, the reptilian mystic Lassite’s Spiral of Destiny doesn’t really deliver much for the hype. I was also disappointed that the Holy Hive Mind takes a back seat after the first act’s emphasis on the threat hanging over Niko’s head – although I didn’t really understand why the Holy Hive Mind bought Niko as culinary artiste in the first place, given we never see her show much interest in food beyond eating Milly’s cakes. I suspect this – and Lassite’s visions – will be addressed in future novels. While the core threads of You Sexy Thing get tied up, it’s clearly setting up a series of (possibly episodic) future adventures.
I’m just not sure it’s done enough to entice me back for a second serving.
If it didn’t become a new favourite, it is still a fun, fast-paced read with plenty to enjoy. The expansive universe embraces magic as well as science (werelions!) and feels stuffed with a multitude of fascinating creatures and cultures. The Thing itself is vibrantly imagined with an unnerving biological physicality (yes that’s code for me screaming what do you mean it has flesh toilets) and an internal landscape I couldn’t resist: endlessly curious; keen to extend its emotional experiences; brought alive by the rarity of being treated like a person. Niko’s crew are basically adorable in themselves and in their loyalty and affection for one another.
Those seeking a space opera for a casual read are unlikely to be disappointed – just set expectations to popcorn snack rather than gourmet meal.
I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. YOU SEXY THING is out now from Tor.