I don’t actually think I even checked the goodreads reviews or whatnot on this book before I was all up in NetGalley’s request button.
Unicorns. In. Space. Guys. I mean, the title of this book itself sounds like a Cowboy Bebop episode, FFS. Who doesn’t immediately request that?!
Certainly not me. 😀
So, I’d like to thank the author, as well as Angry Robot via NetGalley for the review copy.
Having magical powers makes you less than human, a resource to be exploited. Half-unicorn Gary Cobalt is sick of slavery, captivity, and his horn being ground down to power faster-than-light travel. When he’s finally free, all he wants is to run away in his ancestors’ stone ship. Instead, Captain Jenny Perata steals the ship out from under him, so she can make an urgent delivery. But Jenny held him captive for a decade, and then Gary murdered her best friend… who was also the wife of her co-pilot, Cowboy Jim. What could possibly go right?
“It’s not as if dragons are real,” said Gary.
“Of course not, that would be absurd,” said Jenny, rolling her eyes.
This one was interesting right out the gate. This book takes place in the future of our own universe, but it turns out that the first aliens that humanity ever met was a species, or a group of species called the Bala. They are, more or less, unicorns, elves, fairies, dryads, centaurs, and so on. This is an absolutely brilliant way of incorporating all kinds of fairy tale and fantasy creatures into this sci-fi world. Even the stereotypical little grey aliens with huge black eyes and probey tendencies aren’t missing from this story. But, the Bala can apparently interbreed with humans, or at least some of them can, so we get things like half unicorns, which are a little like fauns – human-esque with two equine legs, and, of course, the horn.
Many of the Bala, unicorns at the very least, are quite technologically advanced. Unicorn ships are giant living asteroids with an entire ecosystem inside of it. Unicorn horns are used to power faster-than-light travel, as are a few other things, but nothing does it quite as well. And so, of course, humanity… is humanity. A coalition of humans called the Reason have pretty much taken over most of colonized space, and since a lot of the Bala have parts that are useful for anything from healing to the whole faster-than-light travel thing, the humans of Reason harvest the Bala for whatever is useful. Unicorns in particular, are routinely kept prisoner on ships as a source of fuel, their horns ground down or dug out as they grow them. Unicorns are referred to as ‘it’ – as in ‘it is a source of fuel and we claim it for the Reason.’
Gary Cobalt, our titular space unicorn (or half-unicorn in his case), is no exception to this. He was kept prisoner by a small group of humans consisting of Jenny Perata, a veteran Reason soldier, James ‘Cowboy Jim’ Bryant, a pilot with an obsession for grilled cheese, and Cheryl Ann, Cowboy Jim’s wife… and then ended up going to actual prison over what happened with them. Now he’s just been released from prison, and has come to claim his ship when it’s basically sold out from under him by Ricky Tang, the local gambling den owner… to Jenny Perata, of all the actual people in the universe.
It all goes a bit south(er?) from there, when Gary ends up on the ship with them… less a prisoner this time, but still fleeing from the Reason, trying desperately to make a delivery on time, as those were the terms set by Jenny for him to get his ship back. Help us make this one delivery, and you can have your ship. Ricky ends up tagging along as well, as they did kind of get her bar set on fire… So here Gary is, on his own ship that currently isn’t his, with the woman who tortured him, the man who hates him for killing his wife, and the gambling den owner who sold his ship from under him. Oh, and a whole bunch of dwarves who run the ship from behind the scenes, and are loyal to none but him. So at least he has that, I guess.
Gary is, admittedly, not what I thought he’d be. I expected this gruff, ex-con sort of character, but he really isn’t. He’s a good dude, just in a situation that really sucks. He’s quite nice, and often polite, especially to other Bala, but he’s even rather nice to Jenny, which was unexpected, at first, but not out of character, as it turns out. I like who Gary is. He does what is right. That’s exactly what I’d hope a unicorn would do. What is good and right. Even against people who are phenomenally deserving of less than what is good and right from this guy. Unicorns would be forgiving (to a point, which I would have reached lightyears before he did). I rooted hard for Gary, and I wanted him to win all the things.
I also wasn’t expecting to get my feels jostled as I read (though, I mean I should have known from the ‘Blues’ part of the title), but the more we learn about what happened between Gary, Jenny, Cowboy Jim, and Cheryl Ann, the more sorry I felt for Gary. As we see how humans in this world treat the Bala… man. Right in the godsdamned feels. Unicorns have it the worst, but other Bala get harvested for their parts by humans too. This story shows a future that is gritty, unjust, and sad AF at times, but also not devoid of hope, and laughter, and love. Could humans live harmoniously with another species who were literally made of stuff that the humans wanted? Well…. I truly hope that the future finds humans at peace with each other at least… but I’m not holding my breath.
I thought this story was wonderfully well written, and it was paced really well. There was always something going on that made it hard to put down, and so I ended up reading it much faster than I anticipated. Well into the wee hours of the night, and well past the end of my lunch break at work. There is a really fantastic spectrum of characters of all kinds of genders, sexualities, races, cultures, and species, each with their own abilities and disabilities, personalities, and quirks. The ending left me wanting more, and I really hope that there will be further stories in this world to get my grubby little mitts on. The whole book is unlike anything I’ve ever read before, and I loved it!
I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes a good sci-fi story, and to anyone who wants something unique, real, feels-poking, and yet still chuckle-inducing from time to time. It’s a fast, well paced read, and I give it 4.5/5 stars!
Thanks again to Angry Robot books via NetGalley for the review copy! 🙂