Space Unicorn Blues by T.J. Berry

  • Author: T.J. Berry
  • Publisher: Angry Robot Books
  • Publication date: July 2018

Unicorns…IN SPACE! Well, a half-unicorn at least. The premise of this book makes me think of if A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet were a B-movie. And I loved it. A group of individuals have to fly through space in order to deliver a package at the Century Summit–a big meeting that happens once a century; it’s a big ordeal. And of course, this is a group of ragtag individuals.

There are unicorns, fairies, dwarves, necromancers, etc. Or, Bala, for a catch-all term. Turns out these “fairytale” creatures are just aliens who’ve popped in to visit from time to time. When humans started leaving Earth (after forming an alliance known as The Reason), they discovered planets populated with these bizarre beings once thought to be merely myth. The Reason managed to conquer most of the Bala worlds, treating their inhabitants as third-rate citizens, even slaves.

The way everything was explained and shown in the book felt flawless. This is one of those plots and backgrounds that sounds, frankly, silly. It’s one that could have easily gone into the “This is too much” category. But it didn’t. The absurdity of the general idea was balanced out by the inner workings of the story. It addresses relevant issues, such as the need for diversity, but does so in a fresh way. The cast has diversity, but they are not defined by it. For example, there is a woman who’s paralyzed from the waist down; she’s also a lesbian. But her sexuality or disability are simply parts of her–not the whole thing.

The pacing was also very well done. The book has an episodic feel to it without ignoring the overarching plot. It moves fast while still leaving room to breathe. For example, there are many flashbacks where we learn more about different characters’ backstories. These moments helped the book to not feel too rushed.

The characters all had different personalities that made them feel real, even the minor ones, such as the Reason officers and officials we meet. My personal favorite was Gary, one of the main protagonists and a half-unicorn trying not to be recaptured and treated as a fuel source slave. He is perseverant, takes no nonsense, and is willing to help others. He shows that he is also ready to give others a second chance. There’s just a depth to his character that really translates well onto the page.

There were little nods here and there to popular tales, which were fun to spot. All in all, this is a book whose title pretty much sums it up: Space Unicorn Blues. It’s loads of fun but doesn’t shy away from difficult topics, and it does so excellently. My only small qualm is that I wish we could’ve seen a bit more from the different places we visit. I felt that some of them blended together–aside from big landmarks. Or maybe that was the point? Either way, this book is another must read from Angry Robot Books.

[I received a digital ARC from Angry Robot Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

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