Be the Cog That Breaks the Machine: The First Sister by Linden A. Lewis

Posted 4th July 2020 by Siavahda in Queer Lit, Reviews, Sci-Fi Reviews / 1 Comment

The First Sister by Linden A. Lewis
Representation: F/F, F/NB, Nonbinary Secondary Character, characters of colour
on 4th August 2020

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 now 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.

If you’re looking for a book where there’s a clear Dark Side and no question who the heroes are, this is not the book for you. If you want an adventure, a heist, capers and shenanigans, this is not the book for you. If you’re looking for a comfort read, a quick read, a fun read, then this is not the book for you.

But if, instead, what you want is a book that will challenge you, captivate you, and make you think, then – here. This is it. This is what you’ve been waiting for.

I’m not going to lie, the world of The First Sister is pretty damn bleak. Humanity is torn in two and at war with itself; there’s the Gaens, with their repulsive religion that makes voiceless, nameless sex-slaves of its priestesses, and the Icarri, whose technology is wondrous but comes at a horrifying cost. We also have the Asters, an off-shoot of humanity who altered themselves to better adapt to the harsh environment of planetary surfaces. The dynamics between the three are far more complicated than they seem at first, something which gradually unfolds over the course of the book.

But it’s also a very diverse universe. Queerness of all kinds is completely normalised, the primary languages of the galaxy are English, Spanish and Chinese, and although the First Sister herself is white, Lito is the descendant of Spanish and Italian spacefarers, and Hiro and Saito Ren are of Japanese ancestry. This, too, is all normalised. Space is not white-washed here!

So what is The First Sister actually about? Well, you’ve got the blurb up above, so I’m not going to reiterate that. What I’ll say instead is that it’s about little people – people who feel small, who think they’re powerless, who are trapped in societies designed to control them – discovering that even the smallest game piece can overturn the board. It’s about being a tiny cog in an enormous machine – and how even the tiniest cog, if it refuses to turn, can bring the whole thing down.

And that makes it very much a book for our times, honestly. That makes it very much a book for all of us who feel overwhelmed and hopeless about the state of the world, because Lewis has crafted a story where imperfect people – cogs in their respective machines – can still dream about peace in the midst of a never-ending war. Can still reach for hope and better things even while crushed in the jaws of their unforgiving cultures. Where even those who are not fighters can fight – through their fear, through the weight of expectation and command and history.

The First Sister is a book about agency and compassion, about voices among the voiceless, about doing the right thing even when there is no right thing – about making the right thing, when there is none. It’s about looking your society right in the eye and saying no.

No more.

This stops here.

This is a powerful, gut-punching read that hooks you and doesn’t let you go. It’s not grimdark, but it’s not a plasma-beams-firing action story either. There is love, but this is not a romance. It’s a story with deft worldbuilding, subverted tropes, and characters so real and human you can hear them breathe. It’s social commentary and a call to arms; an instruction manual for resisting oppression and corrupted systems; a prayer that this is not our future.

It’s a book you need to read.


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