Review: Sisters of the Forsaken Stars by Lina Rather

Review: Sisters of the Forsaken Stars by Lina RatherSisters of the Forsaken Stars (Our Lady of Endless Worlds #2) by Lina Rather
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Our Lady of Endless Worlds #2
Pages: 192
Published by Tordotcom on February 22, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

The sisters of the Order of Saint Rita navigate the far reaches of space and challenges of faith in Sisters of the Forsaken Stars, the follow-up to Lina Rather's Sisters of the Vast Black, winner of the Golden Crown Literary Society Award.
“We lit the spark, maybe we should be here for the flames.”
Not long ago, Earth’s colonies and space stations threw off the yoke of planet Earth’s tyrannical rule. Decades later, trouble is brewing in the Four Systems, and Old Earth is flexing its power in a bid to regain control over its lost territories.
The Order of Saint Rita—whose mission is to provide aid and mercy to those in need—bore witness to and defied Central Governance’s atrocities on the remote planet Phyosonga III. The sisters have been running ever since, staying under the radar while still trying to honor their calling.
Despite the sisters’ secrecy, the story of their defiance is spreading like wildfire, spearheaded by a growing anti-Earth religious movement calling for revolution. Faced with staying silent or speaking up, the Order of Saint Rita must decide the role they will play—and what hand they will have—in reshaping the galaxy.

My Review:

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

The quote is from W.B. Yeats’ poem The Second Coming. I went looking for the source of the line “the center cannot hold” and found this glorious thing and was absolutely gobsmacked. In a rather poetic nutshell, this is the story of Sisters of the Forsaken Stars writ even more gloriously than the book itself – which was pretty damn good indeed.

The overarching story of this duology (at least so far) that begin with the wonderful Sisters of the Vast Black, is the widening gyre that turns around the center of this Earth-based hegemony turned empire is that that very center that wants to be a control nexus for an entire galaxy, is not going to be able to hold. No matter how hard it tries and how much damage – both direct and collateral – it causes along its way.

The remaining sisters of the Order of Saint Rita have spent the past several months hiding on a series of backwater planets, hoping to put the tumultuous events of their rescue mission at Phoyongsa III behind them. That story is told in Sisters of the Vast Black. They are desperately hoping that Earth Central Governance has lost interest in finding them.

Even though they know that hope is in vain, because the secret they are keeping is just too big to hide.

On Phoyongsa III the sisters discovered that the ringeye plague that is the scourge of the colonial planets is not a naturally occurring disease. Instead, ringeye is the actual blood-dimmed tide from the poem, and Earth Central Governance releases it deliberately on colony planets that have become either desirable or rebellious to the central authority they are intent on re-establishing.

It’s a secret that carries within it the seeds for rebellion. A rebellion that will be planted on fertile ground, as the remote colony planets have zero desire to submit to Earth Central Governance again after decades of relative freedom and independence.

It’s a rebellion that the sisters of St. Rita have neither the desire nor the conviction to become a part of. But there are plenty of others, full of passionate intensity, eager to fan the flames of war.

Escape Rating A-: What is making this series so special is a bit more in the implications than in what is actually on the page, which may not quite make sense but nevertheless feels true. On the surface, this is still OMG nuns in space, but not done for laughs any more than last year’s We Shall Sing a Song into the Deep took the idea of a monastery on a submarine for laughs. There be kraken hidden in both stories.

The crisis of faith among the nuns, especially the new Abbess of their little breakaway order sometimes take away from the action and yet feel necessary to the development of the story. At the same time, the mundanities of keeping a ship on the run from authority will remind readers of Firefly while the liveship feels like a taste of Farscape.

And the scenario of the central governance reasserting control and the colony planets’ reluctance manages to take a page from A Memory Called Empire while also reading very much like every real world scenario of a central organization with branches. Because the thoughts and opinions in that familiar set up ring very true. People at the center think they are superior by virtue of being at the center; people in the colonies are certain that the central authority is irrelevant at best, tyrannical at worst, and utterly clueless about what life outside the center is like. (If this sounds like it echoes recent political discourse about “flyover states” that’s probably not accidental.

Sisters of the Forsaken Stars, and its predecessor Sisters of the Vast Black, are stories that fascinated me in all the ways they take the surprising set up and project it out into a far flung star empire while the individual characters didn’t get quite enough development for me to be hooked into them as individuals – only into the story they told as a whole.

But that hook into the story as a whole set deep. This story ends much as the first one did, the immediate crisis has been dealt with – mostly by being escaped from – but with their long term course and consequences still very much in doubt.

I hope there’s a next book, because I want to see where those consequences lead.

Review: Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather

Review: Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina RatherSisters of the Vast Black (Our Lady of Endless Worlds #1) by Lina Rather
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Our Lady of Endless Worlds #1
Pages: 176
Published by Tordotcom on October 29, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The sisters of the Order of Saint Rita captain their living ship into the reaches of space in Lina Rather's debut novella, Sisters of the Vast Black.
Years ago, Old Earth sent forth sisters and brothers into the vast dark of the prodigal colonies armed only with crucifixes and iron faith. Now, the sisters of the Order of Saint Rita are on an interstellar mission of mercy aboard Our Lady of Impossible Constellations, a living, breathing ship which seems determined to develop a will of its own.
When the order receives a distress call from a newly-formed colony, the sisters discover that the bodies and souls in their care—and that of the galactic diaspora—are in danger. And not from void beyond, but from the nascent Central Governance and the Church itself.

My Review:

The quick and dirty summary of this story as “nuns in space” does not nearly do it justice.

For one thing, the situation isn’t nearly that simple. At first, it seems like a cross between Farscape, the first episode of Star Trek Next Generation, “Encounter at Farpoint”, and the recent We Shall Sing a Song into the Deep. At least right up until the hints of A Memory Called Empire sneak in to bite pretty much everyone in the ass.

Yes, there are nuns aboard the spaceship Our Lady of Impossible Constellations, which still feels like the best name for a spaceship EVAR. But the ship is operating as an interstellar convent – and its pregnant. Hence the references to Farscape and “Farpoint”, because the ship is very much alive.

But the resemblance to We Shall Sing a Song into the Deep is equally apropos, although as seen in a mirror considerably more lightly than in that story. Well, at least the nuns are considerably lighter in purpose and intent than the brothers on the Leviathan.

Even if they are operating just as far outside any clerical authority. And that’s where the reference to A Memory Called Empire comes in, because the memory of imperial glory that the Sisters of St. Rita are concerned about is the dangerous alliance between a resurrected central government on Earth and an equally militant Church of Rome that are both more invested in bringing their long-independent and errant flocks to heel than they are to serving anyone other than their own pride and ambition.

No matter how dark the deeds they must do to bring their former followers back to what only a central authority could possibly see as the light.

Escape Rating A-: The story begins with the nuns on the horns of multiple dilemmas. They’re answering a call to minister to a fledgling colony that needs blessings, baptisms and a bit of medical treatment. Their living ship has somehow found a mate out in the black, is already pregnant and needs to return to that mate for her eggs to be fertilized. Or the sisters need to essentially abort the unfertilized eggs before they rot.

We can all guess just how well that discussion is going.

But four of the sisters have secrets. One has fallen in love with an engineer on another ship and has to decide whether or not to relinquish her vows and her place in the order. The communications officer has received a message from the Vatican regarding the impending arrival of a newly assigned priest to direct their mission towards proselytization and away from service – a direction that none of the sisters have any desire to go. One of the sisters has become aware that their Mother Superior is exhibiting the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. And the Mother Superior herself is not only aware of her condition but is frightened that her diminishing grip on herself will expose secrets that she’s spent a lifetime concealing.

As a gentle story about religious devotion and service to far-flung colonies out in the black, this would have been a lovely thing without going any deeper. But the ambitions of both the governmental central authority and the religious hierarchy push the story to another level, as the nuns have to decide whether to stand up or knuckle under – with hellish consequences either way.

Those consequences will be visited upon them from all sides in the upcoming second book in this series, Sisters of the Forsaken Stars, coming in February. Someone, or something, is going to burn in the fires they’ve lit. And I can’t wait to find out who. Because even though I figured out where this was going, I was still absolutely fascinated watching it get there.