Reviews

Review: Tone of Voice

37508432Tone of Voice by Kaia Sønderby

Genre: Science Fiction
Release date: May 1st 2018 by Going to Mars
Purchase: Amazon
Representation: #ownvoices autistic bisexual polyamorous female lead, nonbinary side character, sapphic side character

This review originally appeared on The Lesbrary on March 13th, 2018.

“Things on the inside get easy to see,” Xandri murmured, snuggling contentedly between us, “when you’re always on the outside.”

Back in March, I finally read and reviewed Failure to Communicate, a book that was recommended to me as #ownvoices autistic representation by an indie author. I wasn’t aware before reading the book that other than being autistic, the main character, Xandri, is also bisexual and possibly polyamorous, with one male (Diver) and one female (Kiri) potential LI in the first book. The series also deals with some heavy issues, such as ableism in society, and parental abuse in the main character’s backstory.

I adored the characters and the worldbuiling of Failure to Communicate so much that I immediately rushed to pick up its prequel, Testing Pandora, which takes place a few years earlier. So, obviously, when the second book in the series, Tone of Voice came out earlier this month, I had to pick it up immediately.

A quick, mostly spoiler-free recap of the first book for those who are not familiar with the series: Xandri is a member of a xeno-liasons team on a spaceship called Carpathia, a ship responsible for several successful first contacts with many alien species. Since Xandri is autistic, she had to learn many social clues that came naturally to allistic people, and this constant attention to body language and such actually makes her the best at reading and contacting with new alien species. In the first book, Xandri negotiated an alliance with a notoriously xenophobic species, the Anmerilli, but due to some circumstances she was (frankly, unfairly) forced to leave the Carpathia. The second book picks up a few months later.

Tone of Voice starts with a quick guide to the various alien species present in the books, which was a pretty useful refresher. The species we get to know closely in this book are the Hands and Voices – a symbiotic species where one whale-like alien (a Voice) lives together with several octopus-like creatures (the Hands), which is, of course, a huge oversimplification. I absolutely love the way Kaia handles alien species in her books. While they are usually compared to some Earth animal or concept so that people can more easily imagine them, the alien species are all distinct. What’s more, even within the species there is diversity, different sub-species, and different groups or cultures.

It was great to return to Xandri’s mind and narration. She remains a complex and wonderful protagonist, with quirks and flaws and impulsive decisions, but many more loveable qualities. Xandri is a pacifist at heart: despite not always understanding them, she loves people and she loves all alien species, and she doesn’t want to kill anyone. She feels sorry for those who die, even if it happens in self-defense. And yet, I loved how it was addressed that violence is sometimes necessary, and that violence from oppressors and violence from the oppressed groups defending themselves will never be equally bad: “For once, the voice at the back of my mind had all the sense. If their worst nightmare is the people they want to oppress and kill fighting back against them, then they are the ones with the problem.”

A big change this book brought was the multiple POVs. While the first book was entirely from Xandri’s point of view, in Tone of Voice, the narration kept switching between Xandri and her best friend and potential love interest, Diver. This was great for several reasons, one of them being that it allowed the reader to see the events happening in two places at once – which was pretty useful when there was a lot happening. I felt like the stakes were raised much higher in this book: as we can already see in the blurb, Tone of Voice has two armies with clashing with each other instead in the second half instead of small groups fighting like last time. That also means several deaths in the side cast that sometimes caught me off guard, but it also meant many, many tense moments where I was eager to keep on reading and see what happens.

This book also introduced a nonbinary side character with vi/vir/virself pronouns. I am always happy to see more nonbinary characters, especially once that use “unusual” pronouns, so Jae was a nice surprise.

There is no info about the third book yet, but there’s a lot to look forward to. The ending of Tone of Voice gives the reader some clues on what the main plot is going to be, and I’m also curious if we find out more about Xandri’s past.

My rating: 4 whales 🐋🐋🐋🐋

~ Alexa

Advertisements
Reviews

Review: Failure to Communicate

34216194Failure to Communicate by Kaia Sønderby

Genre: Science Fiction
Release date: February 14th 2017
Purchase: Amazon
LGBTQAI+: Bisexual polyamorous female main character, and at least one sapphic side character/potential LI.
Sex on page: No

As one of the only remaining autistics in the universe, Xandri Corelel has faced a lot of hardship, and she’s earned her place as the head of Xeno-Liaisons aboard the first contact ship Carpathia. But her skill at negotiating with alien species is about to be put to the ultimate test.

The Anmerilli, a notoriously reticent and xenophobic people, have invented a powerful weapon that will irrevocably change the face of space combat. Now the Starsystems Alliance has called in Xandri and the crew of the Carpathia to mediate. The Alliance won’t risk the weapon falling into enemy hands, and if Xandri can’t bring the Anmerilli into the fold, the consequences will be dire.

Amidst sabotage, assassination attempts, and rampant cronyism, Xandri struggles to convince the doubtful and ornery Anmerilli. Worse, she’s beginning to suspect that not everyone on her side is really working to make the alliance a success. As tensions rise and tempers threaten to boil over, Xandri must focus all her energy into understanding the one species that has always been beyond her: her own.

I have seen several people recommend this book on Twitter as an amazing indie book with an #ownvoices autistic protagonist, and I was not disappointed. Failure to Communicate was absolutely amazing and I can’t wait to read the sequel (not to mention the beautiful covers for both books).

Xandri was a detailed, three-dimensional protagonist who was easy to get attached to. I loved reading about the way she perceived patterns, people and the world, and I also loved the ways in which she was unique – for example, that nobody else thought to make friends with the ship’s AI. I also loved the many, many different alien species that were hard to keep track of at first, but once I got used to it I appreciated the thought and worldbuilding that went into making many unique species.

One of my favourite tropes in sci-fi on spaceships is the crew as family, and that really shone through here. While they had their disagreements and tension, Xandri’s crew held together, and they were especially ride-or-die for her. I loved the way most of them kept her needs in mind and helped her cope without making her feel like a burden, and how they (especially Diver) went out of their way to defend her.

This book also had mention of polyamorous communities, as well as a budding polyamorous relationship between central characters, although it didn’t become official in this book. Still, I absolutely loved the dynamic between the three of them and I’m eager to see more.

Failure to Communicate also had themes that went much deeper than fluff between crew members. The blurb starts with naming Xandri as one of the only remaining autistics in the universe, and pretty early on the book explains the way people now engineer their children before birth to get rid of any irregularities or neurodivergency. In a way, autistic and mentally ill people were wiped out – not by killing them outright, but by not letting them be born at all. While the crew knows Xandri and supports her, there is much ableism from strangers and the society in general – some of it unintended. Since there are only a few autistic people are left, all most people have to go on are inaccurate, generalised texts that show them as cold and without emotions. The level of ableism in this society was often sickening, especially towards the end (and yes, I was disappointed by Christa reverting to ableist comments even at 96% in the ebook).

The book also addresses gun violence and gun control, not only through the Anmerilli but also by directly referencing 21st century “Ancient Earth”, which was surprising but not unwelcome to see.

While these parts may have been difficult to read, I loved the way the book handled and addressed the deeper issues while also keeping them balanced with funny or heartwarming scenes.

Note: I do want to explain why I didn’t rate this book 5 stars, so I’d like to talk a little about my conflicted feelings towards the ending. Since this part is full of spoilers, I left it to the end.

First of all, I kind of felt Marco would end up betraying them pretty early on, and I also started suspecting that he was neurodivergent before it was revealed. I have to admit that when it was revealed, I felt really conflicted about making the traitor/villain be the only other neurodivergent person in the universe. I understood that the book was trying to subvert the trope of the mentally ill villain, but (at least originally) I didn’t feel like it did a convincing job. Still, later Xandri outright says that it wasn’t really his mental illness, but the torture he suffered because of it that lead him to be exploited. I still have some conflicting feelings about this, but I ended up accepting it.

I also understand that Xandri getting fired was necessary both to set up the sequel and to show the horrible ableism of this world, but – I still didn’t like it. The ableism was already clear, and more importantly, why the hell is mar’Odera still on the Council? He was nearly exposed as a saboteur, the other Council members grew distrustful of him, and then– the next time we see the Council, he’s still there, and a deciding person in the vote? It honestly just felt strange.

My rating: 🌿🌿🌿🌿🌿/5.

~ Alexa