Book review · novel

Book review: Barbary Station

Barbary Station (Shieldrunner Pirates #1), by R.E. Stearns

3 barbary stationDescription: (from Simon & schuster)

Adda and Iridian are newly minted engineers, but aren’t able to find any work in a solar system ruined by economic collapse after an interplanetary war. Desperate for employment, they hijack a colony ship and plan to join a famed pirate crew living in luxury at Barbary Station, an abandoned shipbreaking station in deep space.

But when they arrive there, nothing is as expected. The pirates aren’t living in luxury—they’re hiding in a makeshift base welded onto the station’s exterior hull. The artificial intelligence controlling the station’s security system has gone mad, trying to kill all station residents and shooting down any ship that attempts to leave—so there’s no way out.

Adda and Iridian have one chance to earn a place on the pirate crew: destroy the artificial intelligence. The last engineer who went up against the AI met an untimely end, and the pirates are taking bets on how the newcomers will die. But Adda and Iridian plan to beat the odds.

There’s a glorious future in piracy… if only they can survive long enough.

Since there were so few reviews out I was a bit anxious about this book, but I’d also been excited about it ever since it was announced last December and it sounded so promising (come on, who wouldn’t be very hyped for a book pitched as “lesbians of colour space pirate vs rogue AI”??) that I thought I should give it a chance and I preordred a copy a few days before it came out. I kind of bought this book on a whim and I’m very glad I wasn’t disappointed and had such a nice time reading. While it’s not joining my all time favourites, I’m happy to have it on my shelf and will surely read it again one day.

Barbary Station is a book about the science and tech (mechanical, software…) aspect but it isn’t hard SF either. The main characters are engineers and will have to figure out a way to take an Artificial Intelligence out or understand why it is behaving the way it does.
The story felt like one of these stories set in a space station where one character has to go exploring and repairing while the other has to keep close to the computer or manuals. It also felt like a video games, having to make choices and going from point A to point B without dying. There were one or two times when I became a little bit bored and was expecting more to happen, but it was only in passing and there still was always something happening closely after I started feeling that way.

I also felt at first that it wasn’t made clear soon enough on the chapters who was talking between Adda or Iridian and I found myself a bit lost as to who was who on the chapters but I quickly grew to recognize them by voice and caracterization. They are very different individuals and it became clear soon enough that the chapters needn’t be named after them and it would have been a shame to get rid of these clever chapter names!

I loved that Barbary Station has a f/f couple as main characters, especially an already established couple when the book starts so there was no romance plot or slow burn or anything. While I don’t love that much to read about love story, I do like to read about a couple who stick together no matter what, sneak kisses every now and then. Plus they seem to be a couple made of an introvert and an extrovert looking out for each others, caring and always ready to do whatever the could to protect each others. I loved how they were so aware of the preferences, fears and anxieties of the other, ready to say or do what the other needed. I found this very nice and felt my heart warm for them. I loved that they are that couple that won’t hesitate to sacrifice themselves or others to protect their loved one.
There’s also the relationship between Adda and her brother and the fact that this novel had a complicated sibling relationship AND an established romantic couple made it all the more special to me.

“Love you, babe, but I have to concentrate on something other than what a fuking dangerous idea that is.”

I liked how inclusive the story felt, but there still was something that bothered me.
Iridian constantly has to fight her binary views on gender and tries to show respect to people that are not on the gender binary. So she is aware of her flawed vision and tries to work on herself BUT while she asks for pronouns she still slips sometimes and has to slap herself mentally when she ends up calling the captain “sir” (here’s a random example: “The captain broke into raucous laughter, which the back of her mind still tried to catergorize as masculine or feminine. Gods, that was rude of her”.)
While it is addressed that she shouldn’t do that, I wish the author hadn’t made her continue to call the captain “sir” for such a long time in the novel. It’s understandable that Iridian has this instinctive reaction from her background in the army but still.
I feel like bringing the matter of gender to the front line was done in this slightly hurtful way and could have been done better, not as micro agressions, even if they’re challenged every time.

I loved how the book addresses the fact that english isn’t the only language in space, that some slang has developped and how translation devices exist but aren’t perfect either. There’s also a neopronoun used at one point when someone talked about his parters : “Well, girlfriends, zefriends, boyfriends[…]
Like I say just above, the book tries to be inclusive and doesn’t show a strictly white and heterosexual vision of space, which is nice.

The book as an object is very beautiful: I love the chapter design, the font style used by Saga Press is one of my favourites and floppy paperbacks are my prefered kind of physical books to read so I’m glad I took the chance on paying a bit more for a physical copy and didn’t buy an ebook instead 🙂

My conclusion would be that this is a very nice addition to the space opera novels and that while I had expected to love this more – the curse of high expectations! – I wasn’t let down or disappointed either! I would definitely recommend to anyone intrigued by the initial pitch.

Content warnings: eye injury, sudden deaths, death of infant, misgendering (challenged)

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*A little tease, since I was reading those two books at the same time and will try to post a review for The Fifth Season next!*

6 thoughts on “Book review: Barbary Station

    1. Oh I’ve seen several pictures on instagram that were giveaways yeah!
      I hope you’ll like it, there are good things and not-good things and I think it’s a hit or miss depending on the person!


    1. It was always challenged so I didn’t know what to think but in my opinion it went on for too long! Also the captain doesn’t use pronoun, just “captain”.
      I’d be very interested to know what you think 🙂


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