Space Unicorn Blues by T.J.Berry (published by Angry Robot Books) was on my reading list since it came out, so I was very excited to have time to sit down and read it cover to cover. It has the sort of premise that feels it begins with a drunken conversation, “Bet you can’t write a space opera about unicorns and faeries,” where no-one believes it can be written. As it transpires, someone did write it and it’s a brilliant, dark, comical, wild ride.
The book is 376 pages long, in a fairly readable-sized font. And it took me about four hours from cover to cover. It was that enjoyable I had to consume it all in one sitting.
The characters, both major and minor, were well-formed—they all had their light and shade, and the plot just flowed. There was a huge range in diversity in the characters too which I loved: the book gave us different genders and sexualities and a disabled captain, as part of the cast of characters and without using them as a plot device (we had a transwoman, a lesbian, a mixed race, asexual character, a bigoted old man and more). I also appreciated the very quiet education points, such as (to paraphrase) “if you aren’t sure, ask rather than presume”). The whole thing added to the richness for me as this wasn’t another heteronormative and white-washed representation of a cast in space. The other point that struck me here was that it was balanced in terms of gender—no manic pixie dream girls, and strong protagonists across the gender range. It was beautifully done.
There was only one characterisation I felt sat less well—the Pymmie were represented earlier in the book as one thing and later shown differently, and that scene didn’t gel for me as as a result.
The book started with Gary (the titular Unicorn, okay, he’s a half-unicorn) being released from prison after serving ten years for murder. He’s in a bad place and it’s about to get far worse when he enters Ricky’s bar to claim back his ship. In the bar, we’re introduced to Jenny, a disabled Maori captain and her co-pilot, Cowboy Jim, whose wife was Jenny’s best friend, and who Gary murdered. And Ricky herself is determined to get her own pound of flesh (well, pints of blood) from Gary. Keeping up with that? Good!
This isn’t a happy ever after, this isn’t even particularly happy, it’s a tale of characters being kicked when they’re down and then it going downhill for them. But it’s also a joyous read because we know it can’t end that badly for everyone concerned—books just don’t do that, right?—so it’s fun to watch it all unfold.
I loved that Gary shared pages with Jenny, the disabled Maori captain. Although the book is ostensibly about Gary, Jenny’s story is as dominant, if not more so. And again, good people do bad things and bad people do good things—no-one was clear cut.
And the ending is also interesting—there’s enough wrap-up for this book whilst dovetailing beautifully into Book 2 (Five Unicorn Flush, that I also happen to have in my possession, thanks to Eastercon) and I can’t wait to see how the series unfolds.
I do have a couple of irks at the book, but these are editing-based, not author-based. With my proof-reading head on, I spotted a missing word and a couple of typos. Not enough to ruin the book, but enough to pull me out of the story. And with my formatting and layout head on, the subsetting on the font meant a couple of accented characters appeared as the dreaded square with a cross through. Again, not enough to ruin the book, but… I saw them.
Would I want to read more in the series? Absolutely. I loved the characters and the premise and want to read more about disabled lesbian captains and unicorns in space. Bring on Five Unicorn Flush!
Publication Title: Space Unicorn Blues Series: Reason #1 Author: T.J.Berry Publisher: Angry Robot Publication Date: 3rd July 2018 Synopsis:
A misfit crew race across the galaxy to prevent the genocide of magical creatures, in this unique science fiction debut.
Having magical powers makes you less than human, a resource to be exploited. Half-unicorn Gary Cobalt is sick of slavery, captivity, and his horn being ground down to power faster-than-light travel. When he's finally free, all he wants is to run away in his ancestors' stone ship. Instead, Captain Jenny Perata steals the ship out from under him, so she can make an urgent delivery. But Jenny held him captive for a decade, and then Gary murdered her best friend... who was also the wife of her co-pilot, Cowboy Jim. What could possibly go right?