Confusing But Still Good: Linden A. Lewis – The Second Rebel

Linden A. Lewis’ debut The First Sister didn’t make quite the splash I expected it to, judging from the marketing. But I, for my part, really liked it and wanted to learn more about this world and these characters. Things you can get away with in a debut should improve in the second novel, so I was more than excited to dive into this world again. I picked up the audiobook version again because I loved the multiple narrators, and this time, we even got an extra one. SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST SISTER BELOW!!!

by Linden A. Lewis

Published: Skybound Books, 2021
eBook: 516 pages
Audiobook: 19 hours 45 minutes
Series: The First Sister # 2
My rating: 6.75/10

Opening line: I can’t move in my coffin.

Linden A. Lewis returns with this next installment of The First Sister Trilogy, perfect for fans of Red RisingThe Handmaid’s Tale, and The Expanse.

Astrid has reclaimed her name and her voice, and now seeks to bring down the Sisterhood from within. Throwing herself into the lioness’ den, Astrid must confront and challenge the Aunts who run the Gean religious institution, but she quickly discovers that the business of politics is far deadlier than she ever expected.

Meanwhile, on an outlaw colony station deep in space, Hiro val Akira seeks to bring a dangerous ally into the rebellion. Whispers of a digital woman fuel Hiro’s search, but they are not the only person looking for this link to the mysterious race of Synthetics.

Lito sol Lucious continues to grow into his role as a lead revolutionary and is tasked with rescuing an Aster operative from deep within an Icarii prison. With danger around every corner, Lito, his partner Ofiera, and the newly freed operative must flee in order to keep dangerous secrets out of enemy hands.

Back on Venus, Lito’s sister Lucinia must carry on after her brother’s disappearance and accusation of treason by Icarii authorities. Despite being under the thumb of Souji val Akira, Lucinia manages to keep her nose clean…that is until an Aster revolutionary shows up with news about her brother’s fate, and an opportunity to join the fight.

This captivating, spellbinding second installment to The First Sister series picks up right where The First Sister left off and is a must-read for science fiction fans everywhere

Having read The First Sister last year, I thought my memory would still be fresh enough to at least remember all the biggest story beats and plot twists from that book. However, as soon as I started The Second Rebel I realized just how much I had forgotten and how confusing certain terms and even character names are. I read some reviews to remind me of the characters and plot but I want you to know that this review might look very different had I read both books back to back.

So to recap here as well (I may need my own review as a memory crutch when I pick up the third book, after all), in this universe, there are three major opposing factions. The Icarii, who are all about tech and gene-assisting their bodies to perfection and who also train pairs of duelists that are connected via neural implant. These implants can also regulate their emotions, hormones, etc. The Icarii live on Mercury and Venus.
Then there are the Gaeans (on Earth, Mars, and more recently Ceres) who are much more tech-averse than the Icarii and who are run by a religious order whose head is the Agora. The Sisters of this order have their ability to speak removed and serve as comfort women (read: prostitutes) and confessionals on space ships. In the first book we learned that their voices are taken away via neural implant and could technically be restored, as happened for Astrid, current First Sister of Ceres with ambitions to become the next Mother and change the entire system from within. How exactly this all works politically, I’m not sure.
Thirdly, the faction we as readers sympathise with the most, are the Asters. These people have been created by genetic experimentation and are treated like non-humans by both Icarii and Gaeans. Val Akira labs is using Asters for their experiments, testing geneassists on them, leaving them dead or broken and not much caring either way. So yeah, we’re rooting for the Asters!
What’s new in this volume are the Synthetics, and I’m not sure if they were added just now or if I just missed a mention of them in the first book. Either way, these are A.I.s who left our solar system a long time ago and who also make sure humans don’t travel past a certain point (mostly because we can’t behave and insist on killing each other through war after war…).

The Second Rebel also adds a new POV protagonist. There’s still Astrid, who is trying to navigate the crazy (and of course corrupt) politics of the Sisterhood and has to scheme her way to becoming the next Mother without losing sight of the people she’s trying to save. There’s Lito, whose plan is breaking out his partner Ofiera’s Aster husband from the facility where he is being held. We still follow Hiro (in Saito Ren’s body) who goes to Autarkeia to investigate a Synthetic. And now we also meet Lito’s sister Luce, who joins the Aster rebels and becomes a sort of spy.

As if there weren’t already enough plot lines to keep straight, cities and planets and terms to keep apart, Linden A. Lewis’ naming conventions make everything even more confusing.
Luce’s full name is Lucinia sol Lucius… you’d think a family whose surname is sol Lucius would come up with a given name for their daughter that sounds at least a little different. Don’t get me wrong, I think Lucinia and the nickname Luce are very pretty names, it’s just more challenging to keep things apart while reading.
Lito and Hiro are also pretty similar looking names and I was very glad that the audiobook narrators have such different voices. But even so, it sometimes took me a few seconds to realize whose chapter I was currently in. That may well be my own shortcoming. I have a lot going on in my life and my concentration wasn’t always the best while reading this book.

Plot-wise, this was so cool! Things are always moving forward, there are big battles and smaller battles, new revelations, complex politics, finally some (small) answers to burning questions I’ve had since the first book, and even some beautiful relationship developments – not necessarily romantic, mind you – between characters. All of that made listening to this book something I looked forward to every night. I do think juggling four separate story lines was maybe a bit too much because each of them could have used just a bit more backstory, more fleshed-out characters, more detailed world building. But my overall impression was still very good and I definitely can’t remember a single boring chapter in this book.

This being the middle book of a trilogy, I had hoped to learn more about the world that has already been set up. Like how exactly does the Sisterhood work, how did the Icarii hierarchy and its naming conventions come to be (sol vs. val), what do the planets and cities look like, what exactly is Astrid’s motivation other than “doing the right thing”? We get tidbits about all of these but I never felt like any aspect of this world was satisfactorily explained. It is of course possible that I was an inattentive listener, but I don’t have similar problems with other books, so I think The Second Rebel gave me too many things to juggle in my mind at the same time and therefore didn’t have any time left to flesh out the world and make it feel alive.

My feelings about this book are so strange, because on the one hand, it has all those problems I mentioned above. Like the feeling that none of the characters existed before this story started, like they don’t have a proper backstory or lives that were disrupted by the events of The First Sister. But then again, in the story that is happening during the book, they do feel like real people and I cared about all of them.
I also really loved the plot and the world building, confusing as it is. In terms of ambition, Lewis may have bitten off more than she can chew, but I can’t deny that I had a blast reading this. Sure, I was confused about the setting and characters at the beginning of many chapters, but that didn’t change the fact that the whole spy stuff, the battles, the heisty bits, and the political scheming weren’t exciting.

I also still adore the themes and ideas Lewis is exploring. Gender, identity, a sense of purpose, family ties, betrayal, honor, and corruption are just a few of them. Some are done better than others, sure, but whichever topic came up, it got me to think about things I wouldn’t in an older sci-fi novel (looking at you, Foundation Trilogy). Even if it feels rushed at times, the book offers a lot of food for thought and especially in Astrid’s storyline, it doesn’t simply tell you what’s wrong or right – it lets you make up your own mind and sometimes, that’s really not an easy distinction to make.

I think with some editing and maybe an additional 50 pages or so, this could have been an excellent book. I still loved it because the whole idea is just my jam and I like the way Lewis reveals twists at the end, but I also know, deep down inside, that the book is far from perfect. Will I still read the third one? Of course I will, I’d pick it up right now if I could! Does it go on my award-worthy list? Probably not so much.

MY RATING: 6.75/10 – Pretty good

Best of 2020: My Favorite Books of the Year

What a year this has been. At times it felt like we fell into an actual science fiction novel. We lived (and are still living) through a pandemic, the US answered the murder of George Floyd and many others by protesting against police brutality and a broken system, the US also elected a new president, there was a terrorist attack on my city, my partner lost three family members, and we spent most of the year working from home, isolated from friends and family, and trying to keep it together somehow.

But 2020 also had its good sides and I think it’s important that we keep reminding ourselves and each other of that. People came together while staying apart in a multitude of creative ways, they stood together against violence, they used their democratic right to vote, we support and lift each other up, and those of us who are readers found solace in our hobby and the fantastical worlds into which it lets us escape.

I have read so many amazing books this year. Award season will be a horror show because how can anyone pick one favorite among so many brilliant, original, heartbreaking works? As every year, a few books stood out… except this year “a few” is a higher number than usual. This list will be rather long but it’s not my fault authors published such exceptional stories this year.

Favorite Books Published in 2020


This year has been phenomenal when it comes to SFF novels (even if everything else was pretty terrible). Granted, there are still many 2020 publications I haven’t read yet but out of the ones I have read, there was just a single one that I think of as merely good. All the rest were stellar and make me dread Hugo nomination time. Which ones do I leave off my ballot?


The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin is an obvious choice. Jemisin has been producing brilliant work for years and although this is her first foray into Urban Fantasy, I knew I would love it. I just didn’t know how much. When the city of New York comes to life through avatars of its burroughs, they have to come together to fight an ancient evil. That may sound simple, but  Jemisin’s way of painting the city as a living, breathing entity, turns this into a proper adventure with diverse characters, lots of social commentary, and – as always – great writing.

Alix E. Harrow‘s latest novel The Once and Future Witches took me a while to get into. Its three protagonist sisters had too many POV jumps for my taste, but Harrow found her rhythm eventuall and delivered a beautiful, heartwarming tale of sisterhood, the fight for women’s rights, and witchcraft. A love of stories and fairy tales and women working together permeates this whole book. And the way the characters are allowed to grow just made me warm and fuzzy inside. I may have started sceptical but I ended up adoring this book.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke is the author’s long-awaited second novel after the mind-blowing Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell although it has nothing to do with that book. Piranesi lives in a labyrinth of halls, lined with statues. This book is best read without knowing anything about it because it is a riddle and a mystery, poetically told, with a twist along the way. This is clearly an accomplished, amazing short novel but the emotional resonance is definitely fading over time.

The First Sister by debut author Linden A. Lewis wasn’t a perfect book. There were some character and plot aspects that could have been done better, but ultimately, I just enjoyed reading this so very much that I mostly ignored the things that didn’t make sense. An interstellar war between Gaeans and Icarii (Earth/Mercury people and Venus/Mars people) is shown through three POVs, who are all intriguing and face very big problems. Points for diversity (including the nonbinary audiobook narrator for the nonbinary POV character) as well as setting up a world I want to return to.

Another debut was The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson. This multiverse story delivers plot twist after plot twist while we follow protagonist Cara as she visits neighbouring universes that are similar to ours but not quite the same. Her lower class status and her unrequited love for her superior doesn’t help but over the course of a very exciting Mad Max-esque plot, it’s wonderful to watch Cara grow and find her place in the world(s).

I’m so glad I loved Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno Garcia. I was in the minority finding her Gods of Jade and Shadow only okay but now I can finally join all the other fans in squeeing about her foray into gothic horror. Set in 1950s Mexico, Noemí visits the isolated house where her cousin lives with her husband. Needless to say, strange things happen there and the family is anything but welcoming. I loved the atmosphere and the setting, Noemí’s character growth and the slow burn romance… Seriously, everything about this book was amazing and I highly recommend it for someone looking for a spooky read that offers more than just scary moments or monsters.

Is anyone surprised that Martha Wells’ Network Effect made this list? No? Didn’t think so. It’s the first full length Murderbot novel and while you get much of the same stuff we’ve come to expect and love from a Murderbot story, this one goes deeper. I particularly enjoyed Murderbot’s voice and its reunion with ART. What really made this into a favorite was the tender moments between Murderbot and its humans or even Murderbot and other AI characters. As much as it’s not human, it is through its humanity that we connect to Murderbot and care for it.

Young Adult/Middle Grade

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko is the kind of YA debut that every YA author should aspire to write. It defies the tropes I find annoying and plays with the ones I like. Young Tarisai has been raised by her mother who is only called the Lady, and she has been raised for one purpose only: To get close to the prince and then kill him. But Tarisai finds the prince totally nice and doesn’t want to kill a kid. The premise makes you assume certain things (romance between her and the prince, magical solution to this “you have to kill him” problem, etc.) but let me tell you that you will not see anything coming. Ifueko plays with the readers’ expectations, throws in a lovely found family, beautiful world building and an ending that promises an even more epic sequel.

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson seems to be a divisive book. I wouldn’t have thought I’d like a witchy story set in a puritanical village at all, but Henderson’s story telling is so engaging and her protagonist so easy to like that I couldn’t put it down. For a debut novel especially, I was impressed with the way relationships between the characters were portrayed. I’m not a big romance reader either, but I adored watching the people in this book come together slowly and bond over important things. There’s none of the cheap YA tropes here. Plus, the witches are properly scary and the curses Immanuelle has to deal with are pretty gruesome. A perfect Halloween read.


The standout novella for me this year is P. Djèlí Clark’s Ring Shout, a book that immediately grabbed me, kept me engaged and entertained throughout, and has a powerful story to tell. I was all the more impressed with how fleshed-out the characters were and how much world building was put into such a slim volume. Clark is definitely an author to watch and I hope this novella gets him a Hugo Award.

Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings is Australian Gothic and captured me with its tark fairy tale vibe. Ignore that first over-the-top flowery chapter and just roll with it. You’ll get a tale of interconnected stories that seem very weird at first but all make sense in the end. This was an incredibly atmospheric read that shows how Jennings is not only a great illustrator but also a writer that I’m going to watch.

The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo doesn’t need any more recommendations. Everyone who’s read it loved it and for good reason. The way Vo chose to tell this story – in sort of flashbacks inspired by objects – is one reason it was so good. But the actual story it tells is also breathtaking. The plot itself isn’t all that epic but it makes you think about how we deal with history, whose stories get told (and whose should get told) and what happens to the people on the sidelines of a war.

Favorite Audiobooks

I swear it is a coincidence that all my favorite audiobooks of the year are written and narrated by Black authors and narrators. I didn’t even realize it until I listed them up here. My challenge to read more Black authors definitely contributed to me picking these books up, but this is where I want to share the amazing work narrators did with these stories.

N. K. Jemisin’s The City We Became was one of my top books of the year but the audiobook turned it into something else. Not only does Robin Miles do a brilliant job when it comes to different voices and conveying emotions, but this audiobook also has a few sound effects and music mixed in. Don’t worry, it only happens occasionally but it did help me get immersed in the story. I would have loved this as a paper book as well but if you’re still unsure which version to go with, definitely pick up the audiobook.

In The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson, we follow three very different female characters living in very different time periods and settings. I never thought I would love this book as much as I did but I should have known better. Hopkinson effortlessly weaves magic and Caribbean myth into her tale, and there’s even a real historical figure in this one. Bahni Turpin switches characters beautifully, which includes accents and timbre, and really helped paint a picture of this story in my mind.

Rivers Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts is a challenging book for any narrator to do but Cherise Boothe did a brilliant job. Nnot only does she have to switch between characters of different genders, protagonist Aster is also neurodiverse and thus delivers certain lines in a manner that seems almost cold to other people. Yet Boothe managed to make Aster lovable while maintaining her speech pattern. It’s also just a great story.

Rosewater by Tade Thompson is a difficult book to follow because of its jumping around in time. Not having a paper book to read along makes this even harder, but Bayo Gbadamosi did his very best to help us keep the timelines and characters straight. This very different alien “invasion” story may not have the most likable lead character but I found it enthralling from beginning to end and I can’t wait to find out how the trilogy ends.

Favorite Books Published pre-2020

Without a doubt, the three books that touched me the most in 2020 were Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor and The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. I’m noticing a concerning similarity in my favorite books this year. Almost all of them managed to make me cry…

I read Doomsday Book right whent he first lockdown started in Austria and when it hit home all around the world that this pandemic was, indeed, a global thing that meant nothing would be as it was before. The book is about an incredibly realistic epidemic (I could literally compare the fictional government’s reaction to real world goverments) as well as the plague. Time-travelling historian Kivrin visits the Middle Ages but things don’t go exactly as planned. Connie Willis made me fall in love with her characters only to put them through hell. At the same time, she shows the best of humanity and the reason there is always hope. I cried a lot reading this book.

The Sparrow was something else entirely. A first-contact story that sends Jesuit priests and scientists to an alien planet in order to find the creatures whose singing has been received on Earth. This beautiful tale of a found family sets you up for disaster right from the start. Told in two time lines, you follow the mission itself as well as its aftermath through the eyes of sole survivor Emilio Sandoz. I’ll be honest, I felt like crying throughout the entire book because it’s just got that tone to it. But by the end I thought I had prepared myself for certain things. I was not prepared. This story had me sobbing by the end and left me with a massive book hangover.

Much more hopeful, albeit also dystopian, was An Unkindness of Ghosts. This was one of my five star predictions and I must say, I totally nailed it. Aster lives on a generation ship that is organized vaguely like the Antebellum South. Social injustice, terrible conditions for the people on the lower decks, and Aster’s unusual personality made this an engaging read. Add to that fantastic world building, a mystery to be solved, and Aster’s relationship with her friends and colleague, and you’ve got a book that will stick with you. Rivers Solomon effortlessly adds discussions of gender and sexuality, neurodiversity and class difference into an exciting tale which – thankfully – didn’t leave me crying at the end, but rather with a sense of hope and satisfaction.

Robin Hobb’s Fool’s Fate was long overdue. If you’ve read the Tawny Man trilogy you can guess why I stopped reading after The Golden Fool. I was a little worried that I had forgotten all the important plot points but Robin Hobb is a skilled writer who reminded me of everything important in the first chapter, all without info dumping. It was like I had never left. And so I followed these characters I already loved onto a quest that promised doom for at least one of them. I did cry when certain events came to pass but Hobb managed to deliver an ending that felt both realistic and hopeful – something that’s not exactly the norm for Fitz. No matter how many years pass between books or which series you follow, you just can’t go wrong with Robin Hobb. She is a master of the genre.

Now Kindred by Octavia E. Butler was only my second Butler book but it made me want to go and read everything she’s written. This story of a young Black woman who is randomly transported back in time to a slave plantation does everything you expect plus a little more. Butler doesn’t waste time exploring the time travel mechanisms of her story – they don’t matter – but rather focuses on character and setting. Dana suddenly has to deal with a time when people like her were seen as little more than animals, so this book is exactly as hard to read as you think. It was a powerful story, though, that showed all characters as faceted, believable human beings, as well as highlighting aspects of slavery that especially impact women. This was not a fun read but I can’t recommend it highly enough!

I’ve had some starting problems with Laini Taylor but this year, I gave The Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy another chance and promptly fell into it and read all three books. Daughter of Smoke and Bone still wasn’t a complete hit but worked better for me on the re-read. Days of Blood and Starlight showed that Laini Taylor can expand her fictional world without losing sight of her protagonists, and Dreams of Gods and Monsters brought the tale to its epic, bittersweet conclusion. What I love most about this series is the feeling of myth and lore and history that pervades it all. Even though we learn a lot about Chimaera and Seraphim, it always feels like there’s more hiding just around the corner. The relationships in this story were amazing, both the romantic ones as well as the friendships and found families that are made along the way. Oh, and of course, it’s written in beautiful, lyrical prose.

I also used this year to finish the Strange the Dreamer duology by picking up Muse of Nightmares and, boy, did that book rip my heart out. Again, Laini Taylor expands an already intriguing fantasy world and shows us just how much more there is out there. She also adds some new characters that put me through an emotional roller coaster. What I love most about these two books is probably the villains – or lack thereof. There are antagonists but as we get to see the world through their eyes, it becomes clear they’re not Evil. For the entirety of the book, I was sure things would end in tragedy and there couldn’t possibly be a happy end. And I’m not saying things end all that happily (at least not for everyone) but again, there is a tone of hope as well as the satisfaction of having read a complete story. The prose is otherworldly. Serioulsy, I could put quotes from this duology all over my walls.

Francis Hardinge’s Deeplight swept me off my feet a little unexpectedly. I knew Hardinge was a good writer with very original ideas but then she just goes and delivers a YA novel with truly complicated characters and relationships, set in a world with dead underwater gods, with a deaf character, multiple twists, and an exciting plot? Count me in for more Francis Hardinge because this was a pretty perfect YA novel if you ask me. I’m still thinking about some adventurous moments from this book and then I’m impressed yet again at how well constructed it was.
The Lodestar Award went to Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer which I also adored, so shoutout to that book.

Descendant of the Crane by Joan He was a twisty emotional rollercoaster that definitely stands out from other YA novels in that it doesn’t focus on the romance, puts its protagonist through seriously difficult choices, and delivers great solutions to its core mysteries. If you want a fast-paced book that nonetheless takes time to develop its characters, pick this up. Unfortunately, it ends a bit abruptly and as of today, there’s no sequel in sight. Here’s to hoping we’ll get one eventually.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to call this a pretty successful reading year. I don’t think I’ve ever had this many favorites, especially among the new publications. Many of these books will end up on my Hugo nomination ballot – I’ll post it when the time comes. And who knows, until then I may have caught up on even more awesome books.

If you’ve posted a best of the year list, let me know in the comments. I love looking through other people’s favorite reads of the year. I’m especially interested in 2020 publications that I might have missed or should prioritize. 🙂

Linden A. Lewis – The First Sister

I am still catching up with all the awesome 2020 releases and this was one of my most anticipated ones. Debut author Linden A. Lewis delivered a kick-ass first novel that – while flawed – got me excited for her world and for the next books in the trilogy. I’m telling you, this is a tough year to pick favorites… I’m already dreading my favorite books of the year list but I guess I’ll just cheat and make it super long. 🙂

by Linden A. Lewis

Published: Skybound Books, 2020
eBook: 352 pages
Audiobook: 12 hours 33 minutes
Series: The First Sister Trilogy #1
My rating: 7.5/10

Opening line: The new fool captain arrives in two houers, so I sort my belongings and pack them into a small bag.

Combining the social commentary of The Handmaid’s Tale with the white-knuckled thrills of Red Rising, this epic space opera follows a comfort woman as she claims her agency, a soldier questioning his allegiances, and a non-binary hero out to save the solar system.

First Sister has no name and no voice. As a priestess of the Sisterhood, she travels the stars alongside the soldiers of Earth and Mars—the same ones who own the rights to her body and soul. When her former captain abandons her, First Sister’s hopes for freedom are dashed when she is forced to stay on her ship with no friends, no power, and a new captain—Saito Ren—whom she knows nothing about. She is commanded to spy on Captain Ren by the Sisterhood, but soon discovers that working for the war effort is so much harder to do when you’re falling in love.

Lito val Lucius climbed his way out of the slums to become an elite soldier of Venus, but was defeated in combat by none other than Saito Ren, resulting in the disappearance of his partner, Hiro. When Lito learns that Hiro is both alive and a traitor to the cause, he now has a shot at redemption: track down and kill his former partner. But when he discovers recordings that Hiro secretly made, Lito’s own allegiances are put to the test. Ultimately, he must decide between following orders and following his heart.

A stunning and sweeping debut novel that explores the power of technology, colonization, race, and gender, The First Sister is perfect for fans of James S.A. Corey, Chuck Wendig, and Margaret Atwood.

I love me a book with multiple POVs. In this case, we get three: The eponymous First Sister who is a Gaean priestess serving on a space ship where she (and her fellow Sisters) are there to give comfort to the soldiers. Comfort in the form of taking confessions as well as bodily comforts… they’re basically prostitutes, except they don’t get paid and their job is considered religious in nature. The sisters cannot speak and are limited to sign language among each other and using facial expressions and body language when “talking” to others. It’s an intriguing premise that immediately asks questions about bodily autonomy, identity, and freedom. First Sister is lucky insofar as she is First Sister – a privilege granted by the ship’s captain which means she is his own private courtisan and none of the other soldiers can request her services.  But at the very beginning of the book, the captain is going into retirement and does not keep his promise of taking First Sister with him. She is stuck on the ship Juno once more and has to regain her First Sister privilege with the new captain, the charismatic war hero Saito Ren.

The second perspective we follow is Lito, an Icarii soldier fighting against the Gaeans. Icarii duelists are paired together as Dagger and Rapier, two people who not only fight as a team but are also emotionally connected via neural implant. They can share messages and emotions through these implants which makes them even better fighters.
But Lito’s partner Hiro val Akira is missing. More than missing, they are branded as a deserter and Lito’s new mission is to find and kill them. Needless to say, he has qualms about executing his former partner, friend, and maybe even romantic interest. Newly paired with Ofiera, Lito goes onto the mission anyway, fighting his feelings the entire time. When new information about the war comes to light, Lito has to rethink his entire existence, however, not just whether he will actually go through with killing his friend…

Our third perspective comes in the form of recordings by Hiro val Akira himself, left to Lito as a sort of explanation/goodbye. Through these chapters, we learn more about Hiro and Lito’s back story, the battle of Ceres which was a turning point for the war between Icarii and Gaeans, and how Hiro came to be a traitor to their people.

You may have noticed that Hiro uses they/them pronouns. Their gender identity isn’t talked about much. They are simply Hiro and they go by “they”. It was quite refreshing to see a nonbinary character in this sci-fi story without their gender identity being an issue. First Sister identifies as female, Lito identifies as male, and all the side characters also fall onto one side of a binary, but people generally accept Hiro as Hiro – although there are instances where characters wilfully disrespect their wish for they/them pronouns.
But that’s not the only interesting thing Lewis does with gender in this story. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you the rest without spoiling things, so you’ll just have to believe me. 🙂

Although the book is called The First Sister, I found her to be the weakest aspect of the story. First Sister is a good character to follow but, boy is she flawed. I don’t mean as a person (she is that too, but I’m considering that a good thing that makes her more believable) but as a part of the world she lives in. In fact, the whole Sisterhood is a great idea that wasn’t executed very well. I can suspend my disbelief about the Sisters being unable to speak  – because whatever religious reason demands it – and I can even see who a society evolved that has prostitutes on a war ship to keep up the soldiers’ morale. As despicable as this may be, it makes sense within this world Lewis has set up.
What bothered me a lot, though, was how little explored the horrors of such a world were and how isolated First Sister felt the entire time. Sure, as First Sister, her only “patron” is the captain of the ship, but she does occasionally communicate with other Sisters as well as Aunt Marshae who is a sort of overseer for the Sisters. Her only friend is a soldier named Ringer. Apart from that, First Sister doesn’t have much personality. She doesn’t want to be a Sister but dreams of a quiet, simple home on Mars. But her life on the Juno doesn’t feel believable. It’s unlikely that she would have no relationship with the other Sisters whatsoever, that she doesn’t see how they are dealing with their lives. And because First Sister only “services” the captain, we don’t see the horrors of the Sisterhood. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t have wanted to read graphic scenes of how the other Sisters are used, but it would have helped to see the aftermath of their experiences. Since First Sister barely communicates with them and the story is told from her POV, we don’t get to see the other Sisters’ suffering (or whether they consider it suffering at all). To me, this was a lost opportunity to flesh out the world, show us different characters, and explore why First Sister hates the system so much.

As for the larger story arc, this book was very much part one in a trilogy. It sets up certain things that will probably become the main plot in the sequel. I really enjoyed the world building, even though certain aspects of it could use more depth. First Sister’s dangerous relationship with Saito Ren, the ongoing war between the technologically advanced Icarii and the nature-loving Gaeans, and the Asters – genetically changed humans living on the asteroid belt – there’s a lot to discover. Lewis did some heavy lifting when it comes to world building without lenghty expositions and she got me hooked early on. Character-wise, Lito and Hiro are easily the most interesting people in this book. First Sister, unfortunately, fell a little flat.
As for the plot, there are some great twists at the end that actually made me gasp. I did not see it coming but it worked perfectly within the story, it didn’t feel cheap, and its implications and consequences will carry on into the next book.

As for  the audiobook version, it is narrated by Emily Woo Zeller, Neo Cihi, and Gary Tiedemann who read the three POVs respectively. I thought each of them did a fantastic job in bringing the characters to life. Zeller’s voice felt a little too sensuous and sexy to me at first, but whenever First Sister was afraid or excited, the emotion totally came through in the narration and made the audiobook a great experience. Cihi and Tiedemann I liked right from the start and they stayed brilliant until the very end. It was also really nice to have someone pronounce the (very few) Japanese words or names in a way that sounds Japanese – I don’t speak it, so I can’t judge if it was actually pronounced correctly, but it definitely helped with the immersion. So: Audiobook highly recommended!

Although the book has some debut problems, I am deeply impressed with Linden A. Lewis’ work and storytelling ability. It also felt like she has the whole story planned out – at least in broad strokes – and we will get a satisfying trilogy. I’m definitely going to read the next book, The Second Rebel, which is currently set to come out in August 2021.

MY RATING: 7.5/10 – Very, very good!