Northern Lights Southern Stars by C.S. Johnson
Christian fairy tale romance
With elegant language that’s poetic without being saccharine or self-conscious, this reimagined origin story of Snow White is a beautifully composed tale. Princess Ebony Night loses almost everything upon the death of her beloved father, King Maru of Marula, whose second marriage is a political union with Queen Varyes of Pommier is a disaster in many ways. Ebony’s friendship with the queen’s son from her first marriage, Prince Rion, becomes more than a consolation prize as they fall in love and work together to do what’s best for everyone in their kingdom. Dark-skinned Marulis and pale-skinned Pommierians embody present-day racial tensions. Magic practitioners with devious motives, mirror-slaves, and poisonous fruit are a few of the fanciful elements that enrich this clever update of a familiar fairy tale.
Various themes merge smoothly into perceptive social commentary about colorism, elitism, political wrangling, and the subtleties of coercion. Although Ebony and Rion are young, nineteen and twenty-something, the essence of their struggles to assert themselves as individuals and a couple offers universal observations about identity and agency. Ebony often behaves in the Pollyannaish ways of a lifetime member of the privileged elite despite her reduced circumstances, and Rion can seem a little dimwitted, but these traits highlight how much devious advantage the queen has over them. Northern Lights Southern Stars shines as a modern fairy tale with many facets of intellectual substance.
Starman’s Saga, The Long, Strange Journey of Leif the Lucky by Colin Alexander
Alton Kremer/Afictionado Fiction
November 12, 2019
In 2069 A.D., a few years after the Geneva Treaties settle “The Troubles” that plagued the international community, retired U.S. Army Sargent Leifur Grettison wins the lottery. He’s chosen to be the “volunteer everyman” on the first interstellar mission. The starshot seems to offer Leif the reboot he needs when his relationship with intellectual property attorney Sanchali Jain ends. What appears to be good luck may have murky origins. Flight crew members from major and minor powers board the No Name and soon realize that arriving at their destination is only the first of many dangerous challenges they’ll confront.
Starman’s Saga celebrates its characters’ insatiable curiosity and love for intellectual pursuits that motivate them to explore unchartered territories. References to Jules Verne and steampunk conventions conjure the romance of exploration while the absurdity of government bureaucracy and the sometimes ridiculous nature of military hierarchical protocols evoke parallels with the essence of Catch-22. Other threads offer fresh spins on themes found in Passengers and The Martian. Leif’s self-deprecating narrative style combined with steady pacing during the setup of the premise that quickens, then gains momentum with each new situation the travelers encounter makes this a compelling read. Nuanced characterizations for primary and secondary players resonate as authentic in their complexity, particularly the women. Nods to archaic sci-fi tropes simultaneously rework them into the modern familiarity of organic inclusive representation. Like most of the highest quality sci-fi, Starman’s Saga offers readers a thrilling adventure about trekking into unknown territory that’s also thoughtful sociopolitical commentary about humans as individuals, and as constantly shifting groups and civilizations.