Genres: Queer Protagonists, Sci Fi
Representation: Sapphic MC, Deaf sapphic wife, F/F, queernorm world
Looking for a thrilling tale with lesbian dakotaraptor riders, were-brachiosaurs, Slavic witches, triceratops cowboys, carnivorous cacti, and invaders with machine guns mounted on deathreaper tyrannosaurs?
If you’ve been looking for a series like that, Stant Litore has your back. In Incursion, join Sasha Nightwatcher and her wife Yekaterina on a wild dash across the violet prairie to save their alien homeworld.
~guns = clocks
~warrior-women riding dakotaraptors
~lassos are sexy
~there are bad guys coming out of the sky
I wasn’t a dino-fan as a kid – I got bitten by the Ancient Egypt bug instead – but it would take a stronger person than myself to resist ‘sapphic raptor-riding warriors kicking ass on a purple planet’. HI YES THANK YOU, I’LL TAKE TEN!
Incursion more than delivers on its promises. Written in first-person present-tense from the perspective of Sasha, a Nightwatcher of the Humming People, this is an introspective but still quick-paced adventure story, and the only thing wrong with it is that there’s no sequel yet!
The planet Peace is far from the world we know, in more ways than mere distance: the grass is purple, the sky delivers an unpredictable and deadly ‘red rain’, and whatever native wildlife once existed have been replaced by…dinosaurs.
I know it sounds silly. The thing is, it isn’t.
Whimsical, yes – there are definitely elements of the worldbuilding that are wonderful and make you smile, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that; especially since Litore is very careful to make it all fit together. Even though Incursion features multiple cultures and points of view coming into contact (and sometimes conflict), it doesn’t feel like a jumble. Nor do the elements of the book feel random and disjointed – dinosaurs, spaceships, and clocks sound like they couldn’t possibly all go together in any cohesive way, but in Litore’s hands, they absolutely do!
The Humming People are one of the many societies living on planet Peace; descended from a long-ago Founder who brought her people here from another world entirely. The Founder was the one to populate the planet with lab-grown dinosaurs, and the only mammals around seem to be the terrifying hyaenodons – once-real animals that lived on our world roughly 42 million years ago.
Protecting the Humming People from hyaenadons and other threats are the Nightwatchers, extremely badass women who ride raptors raised by hand from the egg, wielding kopyes – think double-bladed lightsabres – with deadly precision. Nightwatchers must run far and fast, in tightly-knit packs, to guard their semi-nomadic people, fighting off slavers and dangerous fauna, and always on the lookout for the red rain.
The main character Sasha is one of these Nightwatchers, and so is her wife Yekaterina (aka Katya). But they don’t hold quite the same position in their pack – because while Katya is from a strong, widespread family, Sasha is the last of her line. And to the Humming People – who value community over all – that makes her a ‘weak strap.’ A family is many lives braided together, but Sasha is a single one, an individual alone. Braided rope holds under pressure, but a single strand will snap. So how can Sasha’s pack depend on her?
Awareness of her pack’s dubious uncertainty about her is definitely one of the reasons Sasha is so quick to separate from the group, running off with her raptor and her wife to patrol apart from their pack. There’s nothing very odd about this – the Nightwatchers aren’t a strict, regimented military unit; they have a great deal of individual freedom, and so long as Sasha and Katya are at the meet-up point days from now, no one minds.
But they run straight into a very unexpected…adventure.
See, the Humming People are a low-tech society – they trade for their kopyes, and have no other powered technology, no electricity or machinery. But they know they came from another planet; they know space travel is a thing. They even know that people from space sometimes come to Peace and cause varying degrees of trouble – they use the word incursion to describe these instances; hence the title. Because what Sasha and Katya discover is a murderer from the stars – a person like no one they’ve ever met or heard of before, with abilities that come straight out of the Humming People’s myths. A murderer they might not be able to stop.
Litore’s prose is blessedly easy; despite touching or outright tackling a number of heavy topics, Incursion always felt like a light, escapist read, with just enough emotional complexity to hold your attention and keep things interesting. There’s Sasha’s low-key (and sometimes not so low-key) insecurities about her place among her people; her wariness when she and her wife encounter a self-exiled member of one of the Humming People’s greatest enemies; her inability to comprehend the murderer’s technology and powers. There’s the relationship between Sasha and Katya, and Sasha and her (absolutely marvellous) raptor Ihira, and the different ways Sasha and Katya each interact with Dmitri, the aforementioned self-exile. And there is always the thought, at the forefront of Sasha’s mind, of how their experiences will affect the wider community of the Humming People.
If you visit this blog even occasionally, you should know I’m obsessed with worldbuilding, and Litore gives me so much to obsess over! Which is not to say that the reader is drowned in detail, because we’re not – at a quick glance, Incursion‘s worldbuilding might be mistaken for simplistic. The first time we hear of the Ticktocks – the enemies of the Humming People I mentioned before – it’s a little hard to take them seriously. (I mean…Ticktocks?) But Litore quickly and deftly sketches for us a society obsessed with clocks and numerology, and you know what, it completely works.
The culture of the Humming People is obviously the focus of Incursion, and so we learn a lot more about them than we do the Ticktocks – but they’re just as beautifully crafted, as a fictional society. It’s clear from their legends (and naming conventions) that they’re originally of Slavic descent, but for the Humming People, Baba Yaga’s walking house has raptor legs, not the legs of a chicken – the clear Slavic influences have adapted to the world of Peace in a way that feels incredibly organic and absolutely spot-on. And that’s without getting into how the Humming People venerate stories and storytelling, or how Katya being Deaf in no way slows her down in a culture where everyone speaks Sign, or the many ways in which the Humming People’s value of braids and community manifests itself. It’s all just gods’ damn wonderful.
One detail I do have to mention, just because it impressed me so damn much: Litore doesn’t handwave anything about the dinosaurs. The raptors of the Nightwalkers aren’t just raptors; they’re specifically dakotaraptors. The t-rex isn’t just a t-rex; it’s a Reaper of Death, aka Thanatotheristes Degrootorum. I already mentioned the hyaenodons, which I spent most of the book assuming weren’t real until I paused to go look them up. Every dinosaur (or megafauna) mentioned in Incursion really existed, and Litore is up to date on current research – hence the dakotaraptors having feathers and the Reaper of Death being included at all, since its discovery was only publicly announced in 2020, a year before Incursion was released!
#SorryNotSorry, that kind of attention to detail makes me swoon.
In conclusion: I NEED THE SEQUEL IMMEDIATELY.
Come on. Sapphic dakotaraptor riders. What more could you POSSIBLY need to hear?!