Review: The Daughter Star by Susan Jane Bigelow

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June 4, 2013 by Heidi

The Daughter Star by Susan Jane BigelowTitle: The Daughter Star [Goodreads]
Author: Susan Jane Bigelow [Twitter]
Standing: Book 1 in a series.
Genre: SciFi
Published: May 28th, 2013 by Candlemark and Gleam
Format: E-book; 336 pages
Source: ARC from publisher.

What a rotten way for everything to turn out. Freighter pilot Marta Grayline is grounded, trapped on her miserable home planet by an intrasystem war that’s separated her from her beautiful girlfriend, her career, and everything she loves.

When her sister Beth offers her a way out by enlisting in the Novan Emergency Fleet, Marta jumps at the opportunity to get back into space.

But when her ship is attacked and destroyed, she finds herself stranded on a mysterious space station with a crew that won’t answer her questions.

And, of course, then there’s the aliens – the planet-destroying Abrax that somehow seem to have a hold on Beth.

They’re coming for Marta, too.

She’ll have to face ancient forces, her own doubts, and the inside of an alien mind if she wants to get some answers, complete her mission, and unlock her own latent potential. The Daughter Star, the red beacon in the night sky, may yet be the key to the freedom and understanding Marta so desperately wants.

There’s something recognizably Bigelow about Susan Jane’s writing that seeps into each of her books and proves them to be just that perfect read for a certain mood.  She understands human nature so well, and even though it may be through a sullen lens I find her characters and stories utterly refreshing.  As with her Extrahumans series, The Daughter Star should not be turned to if you’re seeking a happily ever after, but if you want a very real portrait of relationships, nonconformity, and an uncomfortable desire to belong, she ought to be at the top of your list.

The Daughter Star was an out of the box read for me because it is strait up SciFi.  Not the easier earthy SciFi with futuristic tech I tend to read, but SciFi of the hard-core we live on other planets and travel in space variety.  And you know what?  I think it’s going to be a new goal of mine to seek out more such reads that I will enjoy, because SJB has proven to me that they can be exciting, quick paced, and scientific without drowning me in technobabble I’m unable to grasp.  It is somewhat militaristic SciFi without being overly so.  Political but not stifling.

The Daughter Star takes place three centuries after the evacuation and destruction of our planet.  When the Abrax came, claiming the need to harvest our atmosphere for their further existence and offering two habitable planets as exchange, humans struck a deal, believing that if they didn’t they’d be destroyed by a race with far fewer considerations for our continued survival.  Marta Grayline is a pilot who’s escaped from the less comfortable of these two planets, only to be forced home again when war breaks out between the two surviving human refuges.

The thing I love about Susan Jane Bigelow’s female characters is how uncomfortable they seem.  Marta isn’t a character we instantly fall for, but one we can’t help but sympathize with because in so many ways viewing her internal struggles is like holding up a mirror to parts your own inner-self.  That driving need to belong somewhere and with someone, the fear of backlash from your family, but inability to do as they desire, the fierce need to protect those you love even as you chafe against others doing the same to you.  Marta is a character searching desperately for a cause, and there are so many factions clamoring to recruit, but continually she seems unable to really settle her mind to anything.  Moreover, Marta is the unexpected character.  She is not the chosen one, but someone acting out of love and need–quite possibly the only one able to save those around her from themselves despite being such a small player in the game.

The Daughter Star is a book that recognizes that people go through major changes in their lives, and that we very rarely remain the people those around us expect us to eternally stay.  I love that, as with her previous work, SJB takes on LGBT issues with a deft balance that acknowledges a continued struggle to fit into society while simultaneously professing complete normality of these relationships.  It is a work full of unexpected turns that come at a pace set to remind readers not to get too comfortable in any situation, it is certain to change.

As much as I enjoyed the overarching story and character of Marta, I admit that I had a hard time connecting to The Daughter Star on any emotional level.  Marta is a woman struggling to connect with any cause, and as she is unable to commit her emotions, so are we.  I was unable to invest myself in her various personal connections because of the pace and turns.  Yes, they kept the story moving and made it quite a quick and enjoyable read, but they also left me a little empty at the close.  I want to be invested in Marta’s future, in the futures of Beth, humanity, and the Abrax, but with this first installment I am unconvinced.  Still, I remain faithful in Bigelow’s ability to look at big picture issues through the small scope of individuals, and to connect me with the story that is to come.

Likelihood that I’ll be back for more:  I can’t express how enthusiastic I was when I realized SJB was writing more in her awesome Extrahumans series, and I’ll be looking for the next book in this one as well!

Recommended for:  I realize one’s adult SciFi and the other is middle grade fantasy, but I saw a lot of parallel themes between this and Frances Hardinge’s The Lost Conspiracy that I think should appeal to readers of both!

I’ve also reviewed:
Extrahumans by Susan Jane Bigelow (Series Review)

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3 comments »

  1. I have a copy of this waiting on my Kindle, and your review has me really interested in reading it.

    This is a really nicely written review, and your point about real, hardcore sci-fi versus just futuristic, Earth-based sci-fi definitely has me thinking and interested in seeking out more of the former. Have you searched any out yet?

    • Heidi says:

      Oooh, I hope you do check it out Allison. I didn’t like it as much as her Extrahumans series, but still found it quite enjoyable. I think my next hard SciFi series will likely be Lois McMaster Bujold’s Volksagian books. It’s a big series (which is always intimidating), but I’ve heard such great things and I read one of her fantasies about a month ago and really got into it. I’ve had David Weber recommended in the past, but I couldn’t get into the one I tried.

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