Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Book Review: Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden

Pros: fascinating worldbuilding, thought provoking, interesting characters

Cons: could have used more explanation at times

Seske Kaleigh is fond of breaking the rules, dragging her best friend, Adalla, a beastworker, with her on adventures. Their society has recently moved to a new beast, and Seske wants to see the preparation work she’d normally sleep through. It quickly becomes apparent that there’s something wrong with this beast, but class concerns keep her away from Adalla, despite their feelings for each other, and politics keeps things in their society the same, despite the realization that they’re killing the beast, and through that act, themselves.

The worldbuilding is unique. The descendants of those who fled Earth centuries ago have learned to live on space faring beasts, twisting the insides into homes and stores, feeding on the creatures living inside it. There’s a lot of blood and ichor, so if body horror isn’t your thing you may want to pass on this. The closest comparison I can make is with Kameron Hurley’s The Stars are Legion, though beyond the setting there’s no other horror elements here.

There’s a lot of vocabulary and cultural information to learn in the first few chapters but the author does an excellent job of introducing things naturally and at a good pace so you can really begin to understand what’s going on in this strange beast-ship. This world was so different and unique that I’d have been ok with an info dump or two (though I am honestly impressed at how well integrated the information was on the whole).

The family relationship organization is fascinating. Because the protagonists are younger, we only see this from their perspective, so there are 3 fathers and 6 mothers who make up a unit, and they are allowed 1 child between them. There are lines of who’s allowed to sleep with whom, but the book doesn’t go too deep into that. It’s such an interesting dynamic and I didn’t feel like I fully understood how it worked. There was one scene in particular where I felt like I was missing a crucial piece of information. It was clear that the character just learned something that changed how they viewed their parents, but I was left confused by what was meant by the conversation. A later scene seemed to clarify it a bit, but I feel that a bit more explanation would have been helpful at times.

The story is told through the points of view of two characters. Seske, next in line to rule their people, and Adalla, Seske’s best friend from a lower social class. Their friendship and attraction, and Seske’s desire to break the rules, gets them both in trouble and they never seem to get out of trouble. I really liked both of them at the start. I started to really dislike Seske as the book went on, as she’s fairly self-centered, and I wasn’t a fan of how she treated Doka. It quickly becomes clear that she’s not the best successor though she fights hard to maintain her position. I liked her again towards the end when she started making better decisions. Adalla’s journey was challenging but she remained a hard worker who cared deeply for others. Seeing her pain was unpleasant and I desperately wanted things to turn out good for her in the end.

There were a few times when it seemed like important plot developments were passed over too quickly or left without a full resolution. I was left with questions regarding Sisterkin at the end of the book. Similarly one of Adalla’s projects got a major plot beat and then was never mentioned again.

The author touches on class divisions and how people from one class don’t really see people from the others as human - like themselves. This goes for the ruling women of the upper class towards men and lower classes, but we see the men, despite recognizing their own discrimination, do this with the lower classes. Even among the working classes, the people section themselves off based on what organs they work with, scorning the others.

The book wraps up the main threads, but a sequel is coming soon that will hopefully deal with the fallout of the major decisions made in this book.

On the whole the book dealt with some heavy ethical issues and took place in a fascinating and unique world. I hope the sequel fleshes the family relationships out more.

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