It is apparent from just the first couple of chapters that “Sailor to a Siren” combines an intriguing, and relatively unusual, mix of genres. The first chapter opens in the middle of a heist with member of one gang (including two of the novel’s protagonists) stealing a drug shipment owned by a rival gang. That this isn’t a mundane crime novel is soon obvious since the rival gang members are aliens who look a bit like giant birds and they have a human woman helping them guard the shipment who can do what the characters describe as magic.
The setting feels like a classic space opera setting with humanity now dispersed across half of a galaxy dominated by two superpowers that seem to be in the middle of a lengthy Cold War. The planet most of the book is set on is largely populated by the bird-like aliens but it’s also home to a large community of humans as well as various other assorted aliens. The Spellweavers add a touch of what feels like urban fantasy into the setting, although there is some brief exposition about how the magic they do has a complex scientific explanation.
Traditionally Space Opera stories have taken place on an epic scale but despite the setting this doesn’t feel much like a traditional Space Opera plot. The story focuses on the aftermath of the heist that takes place in the first chapter, as two brothers Connor and Logan try to find a way to sell what they’ve stolen while surviving the rival gang’s retaliation and having to navigate the complicated politics of the planet’s underworld. From the very first chapter onwards they have a feeling that they’ve stumbled into something more dangerous than they expected, since no ordinary drugs shipment should have been guarded by an expensive Spellweaver. They soon find they’re in more trouble than they anticipated but even in desperate circumstances Connor always keeps looking for a way to turn the situation to his advantage. A complication is provided by the third of the book’s main characters, an old flame of Logan’s named Eloise who is part of a group of Spellweavers hired to crack down on the planet’s trade in illegal drugs.
There is a lot of plot packed into a relatively short book. This is set in a brutal world where life is cheap and everyone from the gangs to the police have their own agenda and nobody other than family can be fully trusted (although sometimes loyalty can be found in surprising places). The story gets increasingly complex as it goes along before the various factions all converge together in a final confrontation which I thought was the highlight of the book – a clash between multiple different groups where none of them are entirely in control of the situation. The setting is very claustrophobic, the stakes are high and it remains tense throughout. There are plenty of double-crosses and most characters have some hidden motivations which kept the plot unpredictable.
Due to the nature of the plot we only get glimpses of the wider setting but the book does a good job of suggesting a long history and there is plenty of material for other books in the setting to explore – the long-running conflict between the two rival guilds of Spellweavers seems particularly intriguing.
I thought the characterisation was good. I wouldn’t say most of the characters are likable – Connor and Logan are hardened criminals who loyalty to each other is probably one of their few redeeming features – but they are interesting and compelling characters. There may be a lot of action in the book but in between the three main characters do get some effective character development, and it’s also interesting to see the contrast between how they are perceived by other characters and how they perceive themselves when we see things from their perspective.
Overall, I thought this was a compelling mixture of gangland thriller, space opera and urban fantasy and I look forward to reading more books in the same setting.
Rating : 8 / 10