I first heard about The Stars are Legion on the Breaking the Glass Slipper Podcast in an episode where Hurley was interviewed and had some interesting things to say. After looking into Hurley and her social media a little more I found that the book was being marketed with the slogan “Lesbians in Space”. Who wouldn’t take that bait? I ordered the book almost immediately after seeing those three words, though I knew it would be a little while before I got round to reading it. Still, I had high hopes. Hurley seemed like a great person in her interview, the book seemed like it would be my kind of thing, so I waited until I had a moment to breathe where I could really enjoy the book, and set to reading.
The first few chapters of the book were confusing, which I expected. The premise is that Zan wakes up with no memory in the midst of a war between the worlds of an organic fleet called the Legion, and it’s not the first time she’s woken up like this. It’s also not the first time I’ve read a character with amnesia, so I felt I was prepared. Unfortunately, I felt that the first person narrative was a little off-kilter and it all moved much too fast. So let me break it down for you.
Zan wakes up, with no idea of where she is or why, but of course little things bleed through. She has no idea about this war, or what her part in it is, but suddenly, she’s a seasoned general working off muscle memory and leading troops into battle. A battle that fails, as it apparently has before. Most of the small threads picked up by what little memory she has are abandoned and essentially pointless in the end. As well as this, during the battle scene there was a slight lapse in editing that had me confused for a good half hour before I realised it was just a tiny mistake and I wasn’t a complete fool.
Okay that’s it for the strange pacing and a tiny error that stopped me sleeping (silly I know). Onto the infuriating narrative voices. There were two first person narrators, Zan, who remembers nothing, and Jayd who remembers everything. Zan’s narrative would be all well and good if it weren’t identical in voice to Jayd’s, and frankly it doesn’t develop much as she develops her personality from a clean slate. Jayd’s narration, however, was a terrible choice. Hurley tries to withhold information from the reader whilst tracking the internal monologue of someone in the know, which ultimately failed and just made the character’s voice annoying and incomplete. I really think it should have been written in third person to achieve a better effect. I know I harp on about this a lot, but emotions should be shown, not told, and that’s where a lot of first person falls down for me. I don’t like being spoon fed, let me feed myself damn it.
Finally, as I already said, I picked up this book to read some good solid feminist fiction, and despite the lovely dedication at the start raising my hopes, it didn’t really work out that way. Firstly, there was almost no diversity in character. There was one character that spoke too much, and that was the only deviation from the stock characters I could find which was infuriating. All of the characters seemed to be horrible people with no morals, and it was a bit of a boring read because of that. Even the seemingly innocent, if a bit weird, character tried to poison someone and I wasn’t really that fussed by it. (Also she gets pretty brutally hurt several times and doesn’t die which destroyed some of it’s supposed grittiness for me.) Secondly, and this is a small issue, but still an issue, a lot of the language was significantly male. The leaders of the worlds were referred to as Lords and their deities Gods, and though I understand the argument of them being all-female and not having that binary in their language, the use of male pronouns as default annoys me no end.
Finally, and this bit is a little spoiler-y, they finish their mission, do what needs to be done, but we don’t get to see the ramifications of it. We don’t know if they managed to save the dying legion, if anything’s changed, or even if it was worth doing. It was essentially cut short before the real ending with a very bland, uninspiring message of hope that didn’t feel truthful or satisfying.
I feel quite bad saying all this as I set myself up to really adore this book. Saying that I did get through it quite quickly, but I’ll chalk that up to no internet access and a few long car rides in which there was nothing else to do. All in all I’m quite disappointed, but still not unwilling to give Hurley another shot.