Monday, 1 June 2015

'Polaris Awakening' (Polaris Anthology #1)

First things first, I need to say a huge thank you to Patchwork Press for accepting my request to review this anthology on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide.

'Polaris Awakening' is a collection of short stories by seven authors. I'm going to review each of the stories individually, with a wrap-up of the collection as a whole at the end of the review. My actual rating of this collection is 3.6 stars - the average of all of the individual ratings - so I'll state my individual ratings for each short story as I go. Gonna try and make this as un-spoilery as possible, but because the stories link just be aware in case you see anything you'd count as spoilers!

'Zeus' by Kellie Sheridan: 3/5
'Zeus' is an extremely intriguing introduction to the anthology, taking us inside the head of the main computer system on Polaris. Zeus is everything; population monitor, analyser of violence levels and general security system. I really liked the idea of getting the viewpoint of the computer, because that was something super unique, however there was an awful lot of repeating the numbers of population on the four levels of Polaris, so most of this was really skippable. It did set up the rest of the anthology quite well, knowing that there was discontent on Polaris to then find out exactly what was causing the discontent, but other than that this one wasn't so great.

'Ophiuchus' by E. Latimer: 4/5
Going from life on Polaris to life on an alien planet, we join a member of the Drakaina species who is about to undergo a "game" to impress the goddess who presides over their planet. The only catch is that the game involves murdering defenceless humans, and our protagonist, Lithis, isn't down with that. She hesitates, and the oracle overseeing the game sees it and takes her backstage to murder the human one on one.
Shocking events occur, and Lithis ends up on the run across her home planet, giving us brilliant scenes of description as she travels across deserts. E. Latimer has a brilliant way of describing scenery, so it really brings the world to life. My favourite thing about 'Ophiuchus' was probably the inclusion of the Drayken - a "gleaming red goliath" of a species that is a distant relative to the Drakaina. Using the similar names made it so realistic (almost like the latin terms for the creatures on our planets, in which the names demonstrate how similar they are) so you could tell how much thought had gone into the creation of this world.
My only complaint is that the other stories seemed to get much more wrapped up than this one did - it just seemed to stop very suddenly, so I felt rather unfulfilled by the conclusion. Similarly, this story doesn't really seem to fit into the overall arc of the anthology quite as well - the other stories seem to run between each other, with recurring themes and characters, but because this was the only one not set on Polaris there was a bit of a disconnect.

'Lyra' by Erica Crouch: 5/5
'Love. What a useless thing. It's brought me nothing but torment; it's inflicted only pain on those around me.'
I might be biased, because I already absolutely adore Erica Crouch's writing style, but 'Lyra' was definitely one of my favourites in this collection. We follow Orpheus, a member of a crew in the Port, one of the lowest levels of society on Polaris. Orpheus is in love with Eury, a member of the highest class, so this is quite a forbidden love affair; made even more controversial by the fact that they are both boys.
I've seen forbidden romances between classes before, and I've seen LGBT relationships that have been forbidden by families and religions, but I've never seen a combination of both, so this was definitely one of the more standout stories. Orpheus had a well-rounded personality, so despite the fact that it was only a short story, I really did feel as though I fell for him and was rooting for their relationship.
One of the things that Erica Crouch does very well is to stamp on your heart quite regularly throughout her writings, and this one isn't different in that aspect - there were multiple occurrences that had me gasping out loud, and I flew through this one.

'Gemini' by Janna Jennings: 2/5
'Gemini' is one of those stories that is brilliantly plotted but poorly executed, which was a crying shame. We join a set of twins, who are offspring of the leaders of one of the highest populated planets in the universe, as they attempt to find their little sister, Ilena. Ilena had landed on Polaris and hadn't been seen since, sparking concern for her well-being, which is proved necessary when they discover that she's been enslaved by Avi, the slave master of most of the lowest members of society, the Eos.
It was written well, and I enjoyed the story; Ander, our protagonist, was wily and quick when it came to trying to outwit Avi, which was something I really enjoyed. However, apart from the fact that Ander has a very masculine name and is a heavyweight champion, his gender seems very indefinable for the majority of the story.
For example, when asking a mechanic to fetch a part for their spacecraft, Ander announces "this princess is particular", which - to me - implies that he is a she, and she is rather picky about the service that they receive due to being royalty. Soon after, Ander brushes up against a hot pipe, and manages to conceal a girlish, high-pitched scream - if I was attempting to recover my sister from a distant space station, I would want to play it cool and not show any weaknesses, and referring to it as a girlish scream again implied to me that he was a female.
Perhaps, with a second reading and the prior knowledge that Ander is a male, I would have been able to pick up on more of the signs, but on this first read through I felt very disappointed and rather confused. Even if it isn't overtly stated what gender a character is, their actions and personalities should definitely point towards the correct answer, but the characterisation fell flat so you didn't get a solid idea of him until towards the last chapter or two of the story.

'Scorpio' by Hannah Davis ft. Meghan Jashinsky: 5/5
'Scorpio' is definitely my second favourite of the short stories. We join Seth Cutter, a Port worker on Polaris, who is plotting revenge against the Orions - a high status family who own most of the shipping and trade businesses on the space station. Seth's father has died rather recently, after being blackmailed by Jasper Orion on his deathbed, and Seth wants revenge. He decides the best way to get his revenge is to murder Jasper's son, Kane, by becoming a part of the Elite class at the Unified Republic Space Academy (or U.R.S.A.).
The way that U.R.S.A. works means that if a cadet dies in the training field, no charges can be pressed against the murderer - that's the way that war works, and that's the name of the game that they're being trained for. Seth plans to wait until the final assessment of the Elite, to then kill Kane and take his revenge while suffering no consequences.
The reason I loved the story is because it manages to juggle the action sequences of the training field with the moral questioning that Seth contemplates. There's not too much training, and there's not too much moral preaching, meaning that we get to see Seth's thought processes but we really do not know how he's going to react until right at the end of the final assessment. It definitely keeps you on the edge of your seat, because it really can go either way, and that is a huge credit to Hannah and Meghan's writing - too often with things like this it's too obvious so the outcome is predictable and boring.

'Virgo' by Terra Harmony: 1/5
'Virgo' was definitely the most disappointing segment of this collection. Paige is a middle class girl on Polaris who has just graduated, and her father has put her to work in the kitchen of his casino to teach her good working ethics. Paige doesn't appreciate this, so with the first opportunity that arises she decides to get married.
I wouldn't mind this big turn of events and the chaos that unfolds afterwards if I actually cared about the characters, but they're introduced feebly and it all just seems to be about the shock factor - a girl who had never been on a date before marrying a guy after one meal with him. I didn't really care about the outcome, I didn't really care about the characters, and I don't really care to review this one in any more depth.

'Taurus' by Meghan Jashinsky: 4/5
'Taurus' is the only story we get from the viewpoint of an Eos, and it's definitely one of the more interesting viewpoints. Whereas we only get short glimpses of the bowels of Polaris in previous stories, getting to see inside someone's living quarters and the slum-like conditions that all Eos need to deal with definitely opens your eyes to how bad life can be for some on Polaris.
But Fay isn't only good to show us the terrible conditions that the Eos live in - she's a really strong character in her own right. She knows that bad things are going down on Polaris and she wants to do what she can to fix the corruption and make people treat the Eos more like people instead of dirt; she can see the injustice despite the fact that she's always lived in it, which is super admirable.
'Taurus' features reappearances from two earlier characters, one of which is Avi - the slave master from 'Gemini'. The clever thing about this reappearance is that her character has seemingly completely changed, showing that sometimes the evil in people is only recognisable to those who do not know them - a really clever lesson to teach. I'm not going to mention who the other character reappearing is, but just know that it's a genius re-occurrence, and it was a brilliant way to close this anthology.

'Zeus Epilogue' by Kellie Sheridan: 5/5
'So these heroes, these legends, people like these cannot simply disappear or suffocate when they sleep. These individuals must be dismantled."
The second section of viewpoint from Zeus is much more compelling and intriguing than the first installation. After experiencing all of the individual stories of life on Polaris, it's great to have them all wrapped up and linked together so seamlessly. The cliffhanger that it ends on is ridiculous - I cannot wait for the second installation, because there's no way that it can end like that, it's not even fair!

Overall, I really did enjoy this anthology. Yes, there were some dud moments, but the successful stories more than made up for the disappointing ones. There were a few continuity errors between the stories, but with so many different authors and different writing styles I can definitely let that slide! If you enjoy short story collections this is definitely one I'd recommend - but I'd also suggest it if you're a fan of stories in space in general, because it definitely puts a new spin on things. 

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