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 drank at Monk’s back bar: members of a rather exclusive criminal class and those who sought 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.
When I read the blurb for Persephone Station, I thought it sounded amazing. A genre-bending infusion of science-fiction and weird Westerns with a predominantly queer cast.
And, from the outset, at least one of those things fulfilled my expectations in a good way: Persephone Station features a large cast of characters, many of whom are people of colour, nearly all of whom are women (in addition to one nonbinary protagonist, who uses they/them pronouns) and nearly all of whom are queer. This is a queernorm world, and while science fiction is improving in this regard, I always do a little dance of joy when a book makes it clear that there’s no essentialist gender fuckery to be found within the first few pages.
Unfortunately, the flipside of being a genre-bending story is that Persephone Station simply tried to do too much, and didn’t stick the landing(s). Again, there is a large cast of POV characters, but it was incredibly difficult to differentiate their POVs from narrative tone and voice alone, and I kept getting confused about who was who. Given that some of these characters were not human, I would have liked to have seen more distinctive POVs. Additionally, there’s a lot of info-dumping about characters’ backgrounds and motivations, particularly in the first half, rather than naturally revealing these elements as the plot progressed.
There’s also two separate plot threads, and keeping track of them got confusing very quickly (especially since there are also lots of minor plot points that don’t clearly fit in). The more interesting of the two stories to me dealt with the colonisation of this backwater planet by the giant Serrao-Orlov Corporation, and the lengths the indigenous population of the planet went to protect their existence. While colonisation is not a unexplored topic in science fiction, I like that this book tackled some of its new and evolving faces: as an Australian, there were lots of parallels to the fraught relationship between indigenous Australians and mining companies.
The other plot thread deals with the rights of AI, and I frankly wasn’t particularly interested in this issue at all, which wasn’t helped by all the jumping around. I think I would have enjoyed this book more if it picked a single issue and stuck to it.
Overall, I really loved the ideas in this book, and will always champion diverse fiction, but I didn’t connect to any of the characters enough for a 500 page book. I hope this book finds a home with readers who will love it more than I did.
Note: I received an ARC from Saga Press in exchange for a review. Persephone Station will be released on 5 January 2021.