Like Red Rising meets The Handmaid’s Tale . . . that’s perhaps unfairly reductive, but in a good way! I’ve been chasing that mix of political intrigue and genetically enhanced super soldiers engaging in hand-to-hand combat for the dominion of a whole planet since Pierce Brown’s first book came out seven years ago, and this . . . got awful close.
The narrative shifts between three perspectives:
Lito is a disgraced duelist, trying to find his way back into the good graces of the military establishment by hunting down and killing his former partner and “dagger,” Hiro. Our second perspective, Hiro’s chapters are transcripts of a record that they made and had delivered to Lito, explaining the choices that have led to them being branded a traitor and assassination target. And then there is the titular character, and reason for my Handmaid’s Tale reference, the First Sister of the spacecraft Juno. Sisters of her religious order have their names, voices, and any and all self-determination taken from them in order that they be blank-slate vessels of comfort for the soldiers in their care. First Sister is desperate to retain her status of “first” which marks her as the captain’s own confessor and keeps her out of the bed of any soldier who wants her. In order to do so, she must spy on her captain on behalf of her sisterhood; commit treason to uncover a purported traitor.
All three characters are possessed of a disillusionment with their respective factions and pursue personal objectives that put them at odds with the established order. They are flawed and selfish, but sympathetic. It takes nearly the entire book for the three perspectives to finally cross, and when they do the plot twists are absurdly convoluted. Absurd, but fun!
The first of a trilogy, this book does what a book one is supposed to do and sets up a larger arc for the overall series. Don’t expect any satisfying resolution, but it is a high-paced and exciting read, and if you’re a fan of dystopic far-future settings with the odd space battle and aliens that were once human, then you can expect to get stuck in and start looking for book two . . .