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Escaping Exodus: A Novel

by Nicky Drayden

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Escaping Exodus (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1689135,662 (3.96)13
Harper Voyager Trade Paperback Original The Compton Crook award-winning author of The Prey of Gods and Temper returns with a dazzling stand-alone novel, set in deep space, in which the fate of humanity rests on the slender shoulders of an idealistic and untested young woman--a blend of science fiction, dark humor, and magical realism that will appeal to fans of Charlie Jane Anders, Jeff VanderMeer, and Nnedi Okorafor. Earth is a distant memory. Habitable extrasolar planets are still out of reach. For generations, humanity has been clinging to survival by establishing colonies within enormous vacuum-breathing space beasts and mining their resources to the point of depletion. Rash, dreamy, and unconventional, Seske Kaleigh should be preparing for her future role as clan leader, but her people have just culled their latest beast, and she's eager to find the cause of the violent tremors plaguing their new home. Defying social barriers, Seske teams up with her best friend, a beast worker, and ventures into restricted areas for answers to end the mounting fear and rumors. Instead, they discover grim truths about the price of life in the void. Then, Seske is unexpectedly thrust into the role of clan matriarch, responsible for thousands of lives in a harsh universe where a single mistake can be fatal. Her claim to the throne is challenged by a rival determined to overthrow her and take control--her intelligent, cunning, and confident sister. Seske may not be a born leader like her sister, yet her unorthodox outlook and incorruptible idealism may be what the clan needs to save themselves and their world.… (more)
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» See also 13 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
I thought I'd lost this draft and was almost happy about it. I do so much harping on details when all I really need to say was, "Look, this is a great world-building party, just hang up your disbelief by the door when you enter and get ready to embrace a lot of improbabilities."

In summary (because my reviews tend to be way too long), we've got a unique-from-the-ground-up culture that we get to explore from two entry points at near-opposite ends of a major class divide: Seske, who's the clan matriarch's heir, and the forbidden-love-of-her-life Adalla, who's from the lower working class and, therefore, not good political matchmaking material...even if a typical marriage in this world includes six women, three men, and one child.

Unlike many forbidden romance stories, where the would-be lovers are constantly near each other and tempted by each other, Drayden separates Seske and Adalla and sends them careening off into different directions around the class system of the sentient, space-faring beast that is their home: Seske to palaces and wombs, Adalla to hearts and bones. Pointedly, in this day and age, one will become an "environmental" champion while the other will take on social issues--and the two will seem too opposed to be compatible. Sound familiar? Don't let the beautiful bright colors on the book cover fool you: this may be populated by a colorful, detailed world, but humans are humans and will find a way to discriminate against and hurt each other so that they can be "better" than others. Sigh.

Still, the world building has so much to recommend it that I will forgive the book for not being quite as escapist as maybe I'd hoped. And in the end, what's more escapist than women who actually manage to find a way to change their world for the better?


~~~

Want the whole thing that, apparently, wasn't deleted? I'm putting it under a spoiler tag to keep this review from being too long:


It's been so long since I was able to sit down and read fiction all the way through. The last thing I read was Watership Down back in March, and it looks like I didn't even review it here. I just haven't been able to concentrate for long stretches of time, and I didn't want to feel the artificial push and pull of emotions when I had plenty to be getting on with already. I guess that's why the ancient, impersonal (to me, now) Bible felt like a safe project to take on.

Sometime in July I started dipping my toes in fanfiction and Tor.com short stories again, and I guess I realized I was ready. (And what does that say about a voracious reader like me, that I had to be "ready" for fiction? I guess I'll just put it down to 2020 being a weird year.)

Escaping Exodus was an excellent book to get back into reading again, one that had been on my list for a long time and that was written by a Black author, featuring Black characters, which felt a bit important right now. I think I'm still one book short of my goal to read five books by Latin@s, but at least I'm reading something outside my experience. I mean, it's super sci-fi, so that was kind of a given anyway...

I found this book on a take shelf at the office and was immediately interested. People living inside giant space-faring creatures? How awesome is that? Plus, stand-alone--hallelujah!

There's so much remarkable about this book! The cover description on my ARC doesn't emphasize it, but Seske is one of two narrators, with the other half-ish narrated by her friend-or-maybe-more Adalla, who is from the working class and who can give us our window into how life on the space beast works. So the world building is even more incredible than I expected, spanning not just the environment but multiple levels of society. The people are a matriarchy, to the extent that the gender roles in our world our reversed, with men being looked down on and women in charge. This is in part because family and romantic structure are wildly different from our world, with ten people: six women, three men, and a child. Living situations are wildly different between the upper, lower, and absolute bottom classes, and each life is explored in detail without ever weighing down the story and the personalities. Drayden handles this incredible balancing act almost flawlessly, though the pace does noticeably pick up later in the book once the world is established.

[Tons of spoilers coming, all tagged, but you might want to stop here.]

Now, I do need to emphasize that this is not hard science fiction, so there are several things that require suspension of disbelief:

> A space creature, first of all, but one with lungs and a heart. It's hard to imagine that an animal living in space would have a familiar array of organs. But just go with it, there's so much other world building going on that we need some guideposts!
> For someone who's the presumptive future leader of the colony, Seske is wildly, impossibly ignorant of the practicalities of her people's way of life: she doesn't know that they are not the only surviving humans and she (and Adalla) don't notice the disappearance of a big chunk of the population. Forget Sisterkin being the favorite child--with this level of deliberate ignorance, it seems impossible that Matris wouldn't have just sneakily murdered Seske as a child and replaced her with Sisterkin.
>>> On the other hand, I appreciated how Seske was such an imperfect character, and how her slow realization of what she didn't know also led her to identify and rely on people who knew more than she did (and to acknowledge them, rather than taking credit for their work). For someone denied just about any kind of knowledge needed to lead, she's great at working with what she's got and making the best of it.
> There never an explanation for how the family structure evolved, the extent to which people are encouraged to reach maximum capacity, and--most noticeably--whether/(potentially) why there are about half as many men as women.

But frankly, the book was so cool, with each new layer of the world opening up one at a time, that I was more than willing to just go with it. Some of the social and environmental commentary is a bit on the nose, but it still fits.

The end did leave a few loose ends--though this is where I emphasize that I was reading an advanced reader's copy (ARC) and some of the issues may have been resolved by the time the book published:
> What happened to Sisterkin? She kind of just disappeared after her attempted coup.
> How can Seske spend the whole book trying, against great opposition, to buck tradition in small ways only to flout it in incredibly massive ones at the end? (Giving up the throne to a man she's divorcing, potentially settling into a couple-only partnership with Adalla...) (Maybe she managed because the upper/ruling class are basically all in stasis, so when they wake up, they'll just have to live with the changes. A bit optimistic, but pretty satisfying to imagine.)
> What kinds of changes are made to how Seske's people care for their creature? I would have appreciated a bit of a time-skip for the last chapter for an update.


And there was one deus ex machina choice that disappointed: despite the family structure, all the potential rivals for Seske and Adalla's affections are dispensed with so that they can, at least by the end, be a couple. It's hard to imagine how everyone would be able to reconcile their feelings, especially Laisze; and Wheytt was, early on, married to two women, and later single but highly disliked by Doka. But still, it seemed a shame that in a world with such different family and romantic structures, the main characters (presumably) ended up as a couple instead of incorporating at least one or two people into their relationship.

Also, structurally, there were to spots where Seske got two chapters in a row. Both times I was thrown off because I was expecting Adalla, and had to restart the page in the correct mindset.


Man, sometimes I hate being an English major.

So now this is where I emphasize again that I still enjoyed this book a ton and recommend it to anyone who likes very-much-not-hard sci fi. I mean, look at those four stars up there! I can't give it five because of, well, all the reasons above. But if you, like me, love a complex world that doesn't bog down a plot full of twists and turns, you'll probably like Escaping Exodus. It's full of wonderful characters, cultures, and environments. It has a bit of a slow start but the action ratchets up as the book goes on until characters are literally careening around in space.

( )
  books-n-pickles | Oct 29, 2021 |
*Received via NetGalley for review*

Nicky Drayden has created a truly unique and engaging story - a matriarchal colony of mainly women jump from space beast to space beast, re-fitting the insides of the beasts to serve their people. There are beastworkers (who, obvisouly, work on the beast), grisettes (mute slaves), and the upper class. Adalla is a beastworker, and Seske is the next in line to become Matris, the leader of her people. Though in love, their stations keep them apart, until they're drawn back together by an issue going back centuries coming to a head.

I have always loved leviathans and strange space creatures, and the idea of a colony of humans living in one is incredible. Drayden clearly realizes her world and it's challenges: the structure of the beast and the structure of the unique society are portrayed incredibly well without becoming boring.

The characters are all dynamic. Seske and Adalla mature throughout the book, making hard choices and living with the consequences, all revolving around the beast they live in. I love that Adalla and Seske change drastically throughout the book, and are able to love each other as they are, accepting all that's happened. Even Doka, Seske's husband through arranged marriage, has his redeeming qualities and strengths. ( )
  Elna_McIntosh | Sep 29, 2021 |
***WHO SUCKED ME IN***

The enabler named Thomas from SFF180 in their SFF180 🚀 Anticipated Science Fiction 2019 video published on 26 dec. 2018

The name of the author sounds really familiar... But it is the cover that makes me want to read this. I don't even know what it is about because I'm so busy adding it to my TBR that I missed Thomas talking about the blurb.
  Jonesy_now | Sep 24, 2021 |
This is a super original and different setting! I liked the different cultures within the beast and gradually learning more about what was going on. There's a lot of brutality, and sometimes Seske makes terrible decisions, but the ending was ultimately satisfying. ( )
  lavaturtle | Sep 16, 2021 |
Listen. This book had me at the cover. But then it's about living in octopus-like space beasts with queer women of color? Well, not only did I pre-order, I signed up for the promotional team.

My expectations were so sky-high that maybe it would have been impossible to meet them, but this book was still a fun and absorbing read. Delightfully weird world-building as workers shape wild space beasts into suitable spacecraft from the inside with knives and the creature's own biochemistry. The beasts' internal microflora can be classed as helpful, hazards, or sometimes pets. Add class dynamics, secrets, novel (but rigid!) family structures, queer tentacly almost-porn, sort of generation ship dynamics except they keep changing ships, coded braiding patterns, and did I mention the FUCKING WEIRD obscenely biological world-building?

Delightful, even though it wobbled (for me) in a few places. Must prioritize reading Drayden's other work. ( )
  greeniezona | May 2, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nicky Draydenprimary authorall editionscalculated
Aquan, Richard L.Cover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Howlett, Courtney SeageCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Our histories lie in rubble, buried upon a dead rock spinning under a forgotten sky. Our futures lie in waiting, buried within this magnificent beast traversing the stars we now call home.
-Matris Otoasa, 438 years after exodus
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To Katie and Laika, across all space and time
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Our family's stasis pod seems impenetrable as I rub my hand over the inner surface, looking for the exit seam.
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Harper Voyager Trade Paperback Original The Compton Crook award-winning author of The Prey of Gods and Temper returns with a dazzling stand-alone novel, set in deep space, in which the fate of humanity rests on the slender shoulders of an idealistic and untested young woman--a blend of science fiction, dark humor, and magical realism that will appeal to fans of Charlie Jane Anders, Jeff VanderMeer, and Nnedi Okorafor. Earth is a distant memory. Habitable extrasolar planets are still out of reach. For generations, humanity has been clinging to survival by establishing colonies within enormous vacuum-breathing space beasts and mining their resources to the point of depletion. Rash, dreamy, and unconventional, Seske Kaleigh should be preparing for her future role as clan leader, but her people have just culled their latest beast, and she's eager to find the cause of the violent tremors plaguing their new home. Defying social barriers, Seske teams up with her best friend, a beast worker, and ventures into restricted areas for answers to end the mounting fear and rumors. Instead, they discover grim truths about the price of life in the void. Then, Seske is unexpectedly thrust into the role of clan matriarch, responsible for thousands of lives in a harsh universe where a single mistake can be fatal. Her claim to the throne is challenged by a rival determined to overthrow her and take control--her intelligent, cunning, and confident sister. Seske may not be a born leader like her sister, yet her unorthodox outlook and incorruptible idealism may be what the clan needs to save themselves and their world.

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