The Stars Are Legion: Book Review

What was the last book you read that had no female characters? Was it The Hobbit, or 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea? Are you struggling to remember if there were any women in Moby Dick? Did you even notice that when you reading?

I feel it may be necessary to say that I’m not suggesting that these are bad books because they have no women, but merely that it’s hardly commented on, or noticed at all. But then comes along The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley, a book in which there are no men.  That immediately brings a lot to the table that the reverse situation rarely does.

The story follows Zan, a woman with no memory, and Zayd, who protects her from ever recovering it. They are seeking to save the Legion, a mass of world ships that is slowly decaying as they fight one another to survive. Zan knows little else except that she needs to conquer the rogue world Mokshi, and there lies her answers and her memory.

The Stars Are Legion is a brutal space opera. The world ships are organic, and if you are squeamish you might not be happy with the amount of body horror and general amount of bodily fluids this book describes. As a squeamish person myself, however, it was uncomfortable but never totally unreadable. The Legion is a horrible place to be, and most characters are various degrees of villains rather than heroes. It’s grimdark, but thankfully does not take a turn down Edgelord Drive and instead allows moments of levity to lift the mood. It’s not all bad here, and the world is worth saving.

The middle of the story does drag a bit, with Zayd held captive and Zan sent on her real journey through the levels of the world with a rag tag group of misfits to help her find her way back. The journey feels like a device used to get these characters to work together and build camaraderie, rather than necessarily illuminating much about the nature of the world ships. We also only get to see three planets in total in the entire book; it’s hard to picture the mass of the Legion when we don’t see much of it, and travel between the three planets is quick even though we’re told they’re actually far apart. There isn’t quite the sense of of a huge mass of worlds that the premise hinted at.

Despite dragging on a bit and a cheesy villain moment (any use of “we’re a lot alike, you and I” or any of its variants should be banned), the ending is extremely satisfying, which is a little unexpected for such dark stories like this one. Ultimately, this is why I like it so much. It’s gross and violent many times, but it isn’t above having light moments or triumphs or dare I say, optimism. It doesn’t wallow in it’s darkness, but seeks to rise above it.

While stark in the beginning, it’s also easy to forget after a time that all the characters are female. Despite that, I found myself curiously gendering the characters all the same as I pictured them; the action heroes are butch in my mind, and the more political characters like Zayd are femme, despite little description pushing me that way. Like Ancillary Justice and The Left Hand of Darkness, the book forces the reader to examine their own bias when it comes to the depiction of gender and how we imagine the characters. And yet, we don’t really do this with books such as The Hobbit, so what gives, brain? It’s so common to leave women out of the narrative but when the tables are turned, I find myself imagining women where it feels "a man should be."  I don't really like what that says about me, but I can't resent the book for holding up that mirror.

The Stars Are Legion is sure to be a contemporary classic. I would particularly recommend it to fans of Saga, who might need that space opera itch scratched while they wait for the next volume.

The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley was published by Saga Press on February 7th 2017 and is available wherever fine books are sold.

Megan “Spooky” Crittenden is a secluded writer who occasionally ventures from her home to give aid to traveling adventurers.