Sailor to a Siren
Elsewhen Press, 272 pages
Reviewed by Samantha Dolan
This novel is Zoe Sumras’ debut and you can tell that she didn’t just happen upon space opera. The dept and breath of her worldbuilding is evident from the first dizzying battle between our protagonists, Connor Cardwain and his band of militarised gangsters. How can you fail to be entranced when the first image you’re forced to conjure is a ‘Pellite’ having half his jaw removed by a bullet. And from then it’s dizzying being introduced to the rest of the team, their relationship to Logan, the younger brother of Connor who is only ever spoken about in hard terms. When Logan finally makes an appearance, his path to self-destruction is clear and the game board is set. Sumra is about to throw us all head long into the world that she’s obviously been cultivating for years and you, as a reader, just need to strap in and go along for the ride. The novel is, in brief, the story of Connor, Logan and Ellie attempting to find out who has smuggled an extremely dangerous superweapon before that person tracks them down, finds it and uses it to do unspeakable things.
When the next few chapters are a little exposition heavy, you forgive it. There are entirely galaxies worth of history and politics and subculture to convey while propelling the narrative forward. There the expected genre trope of the liberal use of the apostrophe in nouns. Where Firefly adopted Chinese, Sumra uses French as a base language, naming her sectors ‘Huitieme, Neuvieme, Dixieme and beyond’. Then Logan meets Ellie. Or finds her. Or sniffs her out. I wasn’t quite sure if he stumbled upon her or had the intel and the reader gets to ‘enjoy’ a sweaty, desperately hungry sex scene that just shook me out of the narrative. I’m afraid I never got back into it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as bad as 50 Shades of Grey but it was such an incongruous moment it made me pause and evaluate everything that had come before it and for the life of me, I couldn’t think of why it needed to happen then.
Considering the relationship between the brothers was so integral to the story line, I would have appreciated knowing more about Logan and how he related to world he was in but sadly, we only ever really get to know him through the lens of other people. And it’s a common theme, I didn’t feel invested in Connor either. The lieutenants and foot soldiers in their gangs are still entirely interchangeable for me. I only finished the book three days ago and I couldn’t name another 3 people in it without referring to the text. I do however, have a lasting impression of the vastness of the universe. For some, a hell-for-leather introduction to it would be just the ticket and for them, I highly recommend this. And I’m not so put off that I won’t be reading the next in the series. I’m very curious about just how far this universe could go.