Review: Persephone Station, by Stina Leicht

I saw this book on a list of 2021 queer releases and I immediately knew I had to read it. It took me some time, but I finally got to it, in audio format. I’m still not sure what to make of it, though, so the review got a bit away from me. Some spoilers ahead.

I am, once again, in love with the cover. Although I still don’t know which character this is for sure… (art by Tomer Hanuka)

The Story

Hugo award-nominated author Stina Leicht has created a take on space opera for fans of The Mandalorian and Cowboy Bebop in this high-stakes adventure.

Persephone Station, a seemingly backwater planet that has largely been ignored by the United Republic of Worlds, becomes the focus for the Serrao-Orlov Corporation as the planet has a few secrets the corporation tenaciously wants to exploit.

Rosie—owner of Monk’s Bar, in the corporate town of West Brynner—caters to wannabe criminals and rich Earther tourists, of a sort, at the front bar. However, exactly two types of people drink at Monk’s back bar: members of a rather exclusive criminal class and those who seek to employ them.

Angel—ex-marine and head of a semi-organized band of beneficent criminals, wayward assassins, and washed up mercenaries with a penchant for doing the honorable thing—is asked to perform a job for Rosie. What this job reveals will affect Persephone and put Angel and her squad up against an army. Despite the odds, they are rearing for a fight with the Serrao-Orlov Corporation. For Angel, she knows that once honor is lost, there is no regaining it. That doesn’t mean she can’t damned well try.

The mildly spoilery Review

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I am of two minds about this book because I rather liked it, but I feel like it could’ve been even better if it weren’t for some missed opportunities.

Partially, I think I was a bit confused by it at times because the narrator did not really differentiate between voices, except for Suki’s posh RP accent which was quite distinctive. There was a lot of back and forth dialogue that was just “she said”, “Angel said,” “Enid said,” and it was quite hard to follow who exactly said what without these clear distinctions that you often hear in audiobooks. So I did enjoy it, but with moments of “wait what?”

And there was also a lot of fighting… Friends, I lose focus at the battle scenes in movies, and it looks like I do the same in audiobook format. It was just pretty hard to keep track of who was doing what where… and the battle scene was a good chunk of the book.

That being said, I did enjoy the whole concept of the story, and I really liked the characters. The whole idea is that this pacifist species native to the planet (it’s not a spoiler, you learn it literally in the first chapter) has some hidden talents that corporates want, and our friends go to help them make a stand. You do learn very quickly also that they have some great healing abilities, and they could do a lot for humanity. Just, you know, maybe not sell their knowledge to evil capitalist bosses.

Another thing I really liked is what I’d like to call the Aliette de Bodard syndrome – there were practically no men in this story. There were nonbinary characters, Rosie being a prominent one but not the only one. There were a few background characters, like one of the fighters’ boyfriend, who’s named but barely says anything. It’s just refreshing to have books where women and nonbinary people are both the good guys (sic), the bad guys, and the in-betweens. With different sexualities and genders and family models represented too.

So overall it left a good impression on me. BUT and that’s where we get to the missed opportunities part. The author makes use of different point of views, but then seems to drop that towards the end. Whereas I feel like a few chapters, and especially the big revelation at the end, could’ve benefited from being told from another perspective – notably Kennedy’s. Kennedy is… an AI? of sorts? though only she knows that. And parts of the plot revolve around her finding?? another AI? It’s not clear what she expects to find. We do know she may have to destroy it when she finds it, even though she really doesn’t want to. So to me, it made no sense that we saw all this through Angel’s perspective – when Angel really had no idea what was going on. It’d have had more depth and emotion from Kennedy’s perspective at least in part.

And that’s my main complaint overall I think. I don’t know that much about these characters, I’m not made to care enough. Some get wildly injured and I felt nothing about that. So, it’s a good adventure book, but it’s not a book where I could get really attached to anyone in a meaningful way. And when [spoiler] dies, I really was pretty indifferent. I did, however, feel like this was another missed opportunity. Angel’s people are dying. They’ve actually died a few times, and have been revivified, and are all living with chronic illnesses as a result. They’re put in the path of a species who, it so happens, has healing and life-prolonging capabilities. Which they all know. And yet it’s never broached, there’s not even a discussion of “no we don’t want that” or “after all that happened we’re hesitant to help another human” etc. The possibility is thoroughly ignored and it was quite glaring to me.

I think my main issue with this book may be that I saw it from a plot and plotholes/missed opportunities perspective rather than as a story to enjoy. And I’d put this in part on my inability to get attached to the characters, and in part due to the audio narrator who made me feel quite detached from the story too. Maybe this is a rare one where reading it in paper might improve your experience.

Overall good fun, but not up to my expectations, and probably not a book I’ll find myself thinking about too much long term.

The Links

Barnes & Noble | Waterstones | or listen to it on Scribd (affiliate link)

%d bloggers like this: