by Nicky Drayden
Series: Escaping Exodus #1
Also in this series: Symbiosis
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publication Date: October 15, 2019
Genres: Science Fiction
Escaping Exodus is a story of a young woman named Seske Kaleigh, heir to the command of a biological, city-size starship carved up from the insides of a spacefaring beast. Her clan has just now culled their latest ship and the workers are busy stripping down the bonework for building materials, rerouting the circulatory system for mass transit, and preparing the cavernous creature for the onslaught of the general populous still in stasis. It’s all a part of the cycle her clan had instituted centuries ago—excavate the new beast, expand into its barely-living carcass, extinguish its resources over the course of a decade, then escape in a highly coordinated exodus back into stasis until they cull the next beast from the diminishing herd.
And of course there wouldn’t be much of a story if things didn’t go terribly, terribly wrong.
First, this cover is gorgeous. Second, this book was recommended to me as basically a lesbian environmentalist story set on a space octopus, which, I mean, who can resist checking something like that out? And I would agree, it’s a sort of environmental manifesto, along with a complicated f/f relationship and lots of alien ship body fluids.
Seske is the epitome of the spoiled princess, heir to the Matris, ruler of the people on this particular beast. She can’t even comprehend how good she has it, and she’s absolutely awful at her job. Her best friend, Adalla, on the other hand, is a skilled bodyworker, one of the people whose job it is to maintain the beast. On this new beast, she’s finally getting a chance to be a heartworker, the most prestigious bodyworker job, and one of the most dangerous. It also means she has less time for Seske’s antics, which should be a positive as Seske needs to focus on finding a husband to help legitimize herself as a the heir. But something’s not quite right with their new beast, and Seske’s contrariness might just be the only thing that can save their society – or end it.
“Isn’t it odd that some of the things that we left behind in that other life are still here haunting us in this one?”
To start off with the good stuff: the world building is fascinating, confusing and utterly weird at times. The political and societal structure was well developed. Their society is matrilineal, with men being relegated to support positions, considered too emotional for serious jobs like political positions. Family lines – being able to trace your ancestors back quite far – are important, none more so than that of the Matris, and are signified through intricate hair braids. Though the main focus in on the f/f relationship between Adalla and Seske, there’s also a bit of a love triangle going on. And while polyamory is acceptable and expected, it’s within certain confines of an arrangement of heart-mothers and will-fathers and, well, it’s complicated. Everything is very structured, with almost no opportunity to move outside the caste one is born in, even if that person isn’t suited for the work. The entire idea of their entire civilization being inside a giant spacefaring creature was what originally caught my attention. It was unbelievably gross at times – bile ducts, anuses and all – but also unbelievably fascinating.
The rest of the book – the actual story – is where things fell apart for me. The pacing was uneven and at times the switch between perspectives was too jarring. That may have been the intent, but it did make it a little too easy for me to put down the book between chapters. There were several plot threads that were built up only to peter out halfway through. It felt like the end tied up too neatly and too quickly, especially after how slowly paced the first half of the book was. I find it hard to believe that everyone so readily accepted all of Seske’s changes, including View Spoiler »installing Doka as Matris « Hide Spoiler.
Overall, I’d give this 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4, and I’ll be picking up the next book to see if it addresses some of my criticisms.