Book Review | The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal
Mary Robinette Kowal’s third instalment of The Lady Astronaut is a gripping space thriller set in the isolation of space.
In this third book of the series, Mary Robinette Kowal shifts the focus of the story from our eponymous hero of the first two books, Elma York, to Nicole Wargin.
Now, when I started reading the book, I fully expected this to be a continuation of Elma’s story and was quite taken aback to discover that there was a shift in the narrative to Nicole. I have to say this is quite a brave move as Elma is firmly established in the first two books with The Lady Astronaut crown. However, does the book suffer from this shift. Not at all! And I have to say that I found this book to be more compelling than its two predecessors in all honesty. Nicole is a fascinating character and as I read through the book, I found that I liked her more and more.
In the first two books, Nicole is a side character that is a shining beacon of strength and determination for Elma (obviously, as well as Nathanial). However, in this book we see her as she really is. We see that whilst she might have an exterior of steel, inside she is as fragile as sugar glass and at many points throughout the book, we see her shatter into a hundred pieces.
The story takes place in the three-month silence that was described in The Fated Sky, when the Mars expedition loses contact with Earth and we learnt that there had been some major upheavals caused by the Earth First group. It fills in the blanks of what happened to Nathanial and why he was hospitalised, the impact of the direct action that was instigated by the Earth First movement, the loss of communication with the Lunar Colony and the events that happened there.
As I said earlier, the book changes tone quite considerably and rather than being a book about exploration and colonisation, The Relentless Moon is a gripping thriller as Nicole, Eugene, Myrtle and Helen attempt to discover the saboteur of the Lunar Colony and what action they will take next.
As usual, Kowal does not shy away from the social commentary that was prominent in the last two books and she weaves the actual history of the time with her constructed alternative history. In the midst of this there is also a real-world juxtaposition of the current COVID epidemic and the Polio outbreaks that affected so many lives at this time. Although, when Kowal wrote this book COVID was not an issue. Strange how past and present repeat themselves, isn’t it?
One of the interesting aspects that she comments on is our world view of the more mature female and how that view is to see an older woman as ‘old hat’.
And the other pertinent point that she brings to the fore is the effects of direct action from pressure groups and at what point does that change from peaceful protest into acts of violence.
Nicole is a perfect protagonist in this book. She is a woman who is a mass of contradictions. She is a strong woman who underneath it all is as brittle as iron, and this comes out in many ways, particularly when we discover that she has experienced Anorexia throughout most of her life and that it is not a disorder that solely affects the younger population, but is a lifelong disorder. Kowal deals with the topic in a sensitive manner, rightfully pointing out that the condition is not ‘an eating disorder’ but is an extreme method of regaining control in extenuating circumstances. And we see that when Nicole’s locus of control is threatened, she will fall back on these methods to exert and regain some control over circumstances that she has no control over. Kowal never implies that as soon as she eats some food everything will be ok as people believe but challenges the perception of what the disorder actually is.
What we also learn is that Nicole’s image is built on subterfuge. The subterfuges that she enacts to give the impression that she is a strong, determined woman. The careful subterfuge and manipulation that she employs about hiding her condition and give the impression that she is eating. The subterfuge of what she actually did during the war and her own particular skillset.
I really enjoyed this book and Kowal’s writing. She shows a mastery at constructing complex plot with heart pounding pacing. Of commenting on social aspects but never preaching and writes fantastic characters. Mixed in with this is her masterful ability to write an emotive story that once or twice brought a lump to my throat as there are some events in the book that truly devastate Nicole's world.
If you want a science fiction series that has strong female leads and a story that that tackles numerous social aspects of the human existence mixed with compelling story lines and masterful writing then look no further than The Lady Astronaut series..