by Erica Cameron
Series: The Pax Archives #1
Publisher: Entangled: Teen
Publication Date: November 4, 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Science Fiction
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Cira Antares is deeply loyal to two things: Pax Novis—the cargo ship captained by her mother that transports supplies across war-torn star systems—and her personal mission to save war orphans. But hiding them as stowaways on the ship is illegal, and if any of them were found, not even her mother could protect Cira from the consequences.
She has successfully kept her secret…until supplies start to go missing. Food. Clothing. Tools. All signs point to her stowaways, but they wouldn’t do anything to risk exposing themselves—or her. Especially not Riston, the oldest of the group and someone Cira has grown close to. Someone she might even be falling in love with...
And petty thefts are only the beginning—whole ships are disappearing now.
Not caught in a firefight. Not destroyed by another planet. Vanishing. Without a trace.
And Pax Novis is next.
I’m not really sure how to define this book. The general plot – Pax ships are losing contact, and the Novis may be next – reads like a thriller, but the pacing is very slow. As an example, the book starts out with notes from a board meeting and a few sections from the Pax ship charter. The chapters are told from the point of view of either Cira, an ensign and the daughter of the captain and head of engineering, and Riston, one of the stowaways Cira has brought on to the ship, interspersed with documents like communication transcripts and news articles. Both characters are very introspective – Cira’s constantly conflicted about whether she’s done the right thing by bringing the stowaways on board and risking the lives of the rest of her crewmates, and Riston’s worrying about remaining on the ship and taking care of the younger stowaways – which I think also slowed down the narrative.
“Ze wasn’t losing anything except a safe place to live. Ze’d never had anything else to lose, not here.
Well, ze corrected with a glance at the other four, that isn’t entirely true. There were things to lose here; ze was simply planning on taking most of them with zem.”
Of the two main characters, I liked Riston the best. Though ze struggled at times with being the honory zazi (nonbinary mom/dad) to the other four stowaways, I loved zir relationship with zir found family. Ze was optimistic, but grounded. Though ze understood that becoming an actual crew member on the ship was impossible, ze still wished to stay to be close to Cira. All of the stowaways have suffered various forms of trauma, from seeing their homes and families destroyed in a war to child abuse, but were generally trying to make the best of it on the Pax Novis. In contrast, Cira came off as too idealistic and rigid, despite the fact that she was the one committing treason to harbor the stowaways. Her family and her ship are basically her whole life, and she’s convinced she doesn’t have room for anything else, including her crush on Riston. She was very quick to jump to believing the worst of the stowaways on the most minor of evidence, which left a general bad taste in my mouth. I think she redeemed herself as the book went on, but her initial reaction stuck with me.
The one thing I really loved about the book is that it’s very queer. Riston is nonbinary and uses the ze pronouns, Cira has two moms, and there’s a few other references to non-cishet relationships. It’s considered normal, when introducing yourself, to also give your pronouns. Cira also identifies as asexual, so, as would be expected, there’s very little sexual contact – the most that happens is a few kisses and handholding. There is a bit of romance, but it’s very mild and more of the pining-from-afar sort. Cira also has a cybernetic arm as a result of a birth defect, and while it comes up a few times in the plot, it’s never something that makes her seen as lesser. Another thing I liked about the book was the world building, despite the fact that I think some of the info dumps negatively affected the pacing. I found the idea of the Pax fleet and its humanitarian mission, in direct contrast the rest of the warmongering quadrant, intriguing, but there was a bit too much philosophizing on whether what they were doing was right.
Overall, while I enjoyed the book, the pacing definitely affected my experience, so I’d rate this more of a 3.5 stars. It picked up a bit in the last 100 pages or so, though, so I’m interested enough to probably pick up the next in the series. I would recommend this if you’re looking for a teen scifi book and don’t mind a slower pace.