The most fun part about Slip Point by Karalynn Lee can be described in two words: “Space Pirates!” It makes me grin every time I even think about it. And I defy anyone to not be reminded of Firefly, just a teeny little bit. Very shiny.
But the roots of Slip Point rest in an entirely different science fiction epic. At the opening of the story, Jayce and Shay are just a boy and a girl growing up on a backwater planet, dreaming of going into space. Pretty much like Luke Skywalker dreamed of getting off Tatooine. Or, come to think of it, the way that James T. Kirk dreamed of leaving that Iowa cornfield, and Jean-Luc Picard dreamed of leaving his family’s winery in France. All of them were once-upon-a-time planetbound children dreaming of space. But then, aren’t we all?
Jayce and Shay watch the ships coming to their “Steader” world, a planet that has deliberately chosen to use as little technology as possible. They are waiting until Shay is old enough to go off-planet and take the Academy entrance exams without her mother’s permission. Jayce is a few months older, and his family is less rigid about him remaining at the family “Hearth”. But then, Jayce has siblings and Shay is an only child, her father is long dead. Or so she has been told.
But when they finally take that exam, and Jayce and Shay are within moments of seeing all their dreams come true, Shay’s dreams shatter into pieces. Her father is not dead. Daddy Dearest is an infamous space pirate. And the Space Corps didn’t want any applicants whose parents were infamous, and infamously successful, pirates. Shay left her dreams behind in the recruitment office. Along with Jayce. She abandoned her best friend, her first and only lover, without a single word of explanation, because Jayce was able to fulfill their dream, and Shay couldn’t.
Shay took a completely different course. If her father kept her from joining the Space Corps, then she figured that he owed her a pilot’s berth. So Shay went looking for pirates.
Ten years later, Shay has become her father’s second-in-command. Not because she’s his daughter, but because she’s earned it. Not by being ruthless, but by being discriminating, and still profitable. Now he has a special job for her–a job that will involve government bureaucrats, newly discovered aliens, xenophobic terrorists, the Space Corps–and Jayce.
What Jayce can do to her heart is way more dangerous than anything the terrorists or even the military might possibly want to shoot her with.
Escape Rating B: I enjoyed the world-building, and I liked the character of Shay quite a bit. She’s definitely a strong enough character to be in charge of her own ship. I found it refreshing that she didn’t wait around for someone to rescue her when her dreams fell apart, she created her own “plan B” and carried it out. At the same time, she did it with the kind of thoughtlessness that would be typical of someone that age, filled with anger that Jayce got the dream and she didn’t.
There are elements of other female space opera heroines in Shay, I saw a lot of Ky Vatta from Elizabeth Moon’s Vatta’s War series. That’s a good comparison, I loved the Vatta’s War series and wish there were more. There is also a space piracy element in Vatta.
Which brings me to the thing that bothered me. Because Shay’s planet has such restricted access, Space Corps must know that Shay hasn’t seen or heard from her father. Why does his existence bar her from entry into the Corps? Something wasn’t explained there, or I’m just used to the average Space Corps being way more omnipotent, or at least omni-aware, than this one.
Shay and Jayce haven’t seen each other in ten years, but they were each other’s first love, first kiss, first everything. She left a gaping hole in his heart when she ran out. They need some serious healing to find their way back to each other, and the story works through that. They don’t pick up where they left off, and it shouldn’t.
One last thing, this book is too short! I want more of this world. The story needed more details and background than the author had time to tell. And there are all sorts of interesting things going on, including first contact. Let’s come back here again.