It was way back in February that I won a bundle of books from SciFiNow through a Twitter competition that they were running. What with Christmas in December and my birthday in January, it meant that it took me a while to get around to opening any of them, especially since I was feeling that I’d been quite heavy on the amount of sci-fi I’d been reading lately. However, eventually, I picked up Star of the Sea, to start making the most of my winnings.
This is kind of an unusual book. It’s set in the “Weird Space” universe, a series that was started by a different author, Eric Brown. After the first two books in the series, The Devil’s Nebula and Satan’s Reach, Brown co-wrote The Baba Yaga with Una McCormack and then McCormack wrote its sequel, Start of the Sea, without Brown. This is the only series I’ve ever come across where this has happened. Sure, you sometimes see one author picking up where another left off, like when Eoin Colfer wrote a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy sequel, but I don’t think I’ve seen the two authors work together on a book before the new author takes over the series. I also don’t think I’ve seen it happen when both authors are still living. Perhaps the Tolkein’s count? I don’t know.
Anyway, I can’t help but wonder if I would have felt differently about the book if I’d known this when I picked it up. I haven’t read the other books in the series, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t follow what was going on. It was clear that there was a lot of history and world building that had already happened by the time we start the story in The Star of the Sea, but it’s a standalone story in its own right, and while the previous books might have enriched the narrative, I didn’t need them to understand it.
In this Universe there are three major races: Humans, Vetch and “The Weird,” hence “Weird Space.” The Weird exist on a different plane or dimension and can only enter the Human/Vetch space via portals. Usually, when this happens they destroy everything with extreme brutality. At some point in history major wars also happened between Vetch and Humans, but as our story begins there is an uneasy, slightly suspicious peace between the two races. In most places in the Universe, Humans and Vetch mostly avoid each other, working together when necessary, and both live in fear of The Weird.
Except on a small remote planet where a civilisation made up mostly of runaways and refugees have built up a subsistence lifestyle. Here the Vetch and the Humans live in close quarters and cooperate. They’re friends and they’re friends by choice. Oh, and they have a Weird portal, but nothing terrifying has ever come out of it. They like to keep this quiet because The Expansion (I guess a kind of intergalactic government?) would definitely show up and ruin everything if they knew. Naturally enough, they find out and send a “scientific” expedition that, quite rightly, no one really trusts.
And so off we go on an adventure to save the Universe and prevent a war. The characters are rich and fun, especially the Vetch adolescent, Failt who quickly becomes protective of “Sister Cass” when all others are suspicious of her. The book’s effective critiques of authoritarian power and propaganda are compelling but not so bleak as to spoil the fun of the adventure.
One thing I didn’t understand was the title – I have literally no idea why it’s called Star of The Sea. Perhaps this makes more sense if you read the other novels and I think it’s probably true that people will enjoy this more if they’ve read the rest in the series, but I still found it a good read, and it made me consider going back to find the other books.