BLUEBIRD by Ciel Pierlot (BOOK REVIEW)
Ciel Pierlot – Bluebird (2022)
“Her people barely know what it actually was. What it’s become is far more important. At a certain point, the truth and the story blend together into a tangle that’s impossible to decipher. And in the end, when almost everything the Kashrini had has been taken from them, does that difference matter? If the story inspires, is that more important?”
Ciel Pierlot’s Bluebird (2022) is a delightful space opera romp, a swashbuckling adventure story of badass lesbians in space. Pierlot’s novel is a ridiculous amount of fun, with intrigue and action to spare, and in its quieter moments it manages some pertinent reflections on living under imperialism and the importance of rebellion. But what really sells the novel is its character work. Pierlot’s characters are charismatic badasses capable of kicking ass in any combat situation, but underneath the swagger and bravado is real vulnerability. These are flawed people who have to live with the consequences of their past decisions. This very real human heart to the characters gives the novel a crucial depth, and makes the action and romance all the more effective for being believably grounded.
Rig is a Kashrini who grew up on a world occupied by the mechanistic Pyrite, one of three tyrannical factions vying for control of the galaxy, along with the religious Ascetic and the secretive Ossuary. Forced to design genetic weapons that would wipe out her own people, she has escaped and now runs with the Nightbirds, a rag tag group of rebels who help rescue refugees from the factions. She may not have much, but she has her ship the Bluebird, and her relationship with gorgeous Ascetic librarian June. Her life suddenly gets much more complicated when she picks up the mysterious Ginka, a Zazra warrior with helltech armour and a troubled past. Soon Rig and Ginka find themselves being chased by both Pyrite Intelligence and Windshadow, Ossuary’s ruthless secret intelligence agency. PI have sold Rig’s tech to Windshadow, and to get her to give it back to them they’ve kidnapped Rig’s twin sister Daara. Rig and Ginka must overcome their differences, face their respective traumas, and work together to save Daara, prevent lethal weapons from falling into the most ruthless hands in the galaxy, and strike a blow for galactic freedom.
Pierlot is equally at home writing frenetic action sequences or having her characters infiltrate a high-society ball, both of which Rig and Ginka get to participate in over the course of the novel. Bluebird has a space western feel to it that harkens back to the pulp roots of SF, whilst also drawing on TV shows like Joss Whedon’s Firefly (2002) or Shinichirō Watanabe’s anime Cowboy Bebop (1998). Pierlot’s cinematic action sequences, and Rig’s love of sarcastic quips, would not be out of place in either show. But Pierlot brings a modern sensibility to these older tropes and ideas. Rig is explicitly an out and proud queer woman, and her positive, loving relationship with June anchors the whole book. Similarly, Bluebird has a much more complicated relationship to the ideas of empire and colonialism than the classic space operas it draws from. Pierlot shows how cultures like the Kashrini have been colonised by the humans in the imperialistic factions and reduced to second class citizens on their own worlds. Rig’s backstory involves her rebelling against the idea of the “one exceptional Kashrini”, that her human employers like to use her as a model of integration, to belittle the institutional racism faced by the Kashrini in Pyrite society. Kashrini culture has been systematically destroyed by Pyrite, with religious and cultural artifacts stolen and appropriated, and histories and legends erased. Much of Rig’s struggle comes down to her inventing a new heroic story for herself and other Kashrini so that they can believe in themselves as a people again.
But for the most part, Pierlot keeps the novel’s philosophical underpinnings in the background, the better to have fun with her characters. Both Rig and Ginka are wonderful creations, and much of the novel thrives on their odd-couple dynamic. Rig is rebellious and sarcastic, whereas Ginka is stoic and logical, and still operating under the influence of much of the Ossuary propaganda she lived under. The two of them spark up a prickly but ultimately friendly dynamic, exchanging much banter and sarcastic remarks. As the novel progresses, we find out more about both characters’ tragic backstories, and how their lives and their circumstances shaped the people they are. The two threads of Rig’s and Ginka’s story arcs run in parallel, building to a hugely satisfying and action-packed climax, in which these two women with traumatic pasts seize agency for themselves and kick an almighty amount of ass. There’s no denying that Rig and Ginka are Bluebird’s two stars, but the novel also features a wide cast of supporting characters who also crackle off the page with wit and charm, creating a galaxy that feels lived in. Fun, kinetic and charming, Bluebird is popcorn space opera done with wit, charisma and energy.
Bluebird is available now from Angry Robot
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