Sailor to a Siren, by Zoë Sumra: A Review

In a complex universe of humans and aliens, sectors and rivalries, guns and magic, two mercenaries, brothers Connor and Logan Cardwain, become involved in what appears to be a drug sting so convoluted they are soon tumbling through a maze of betrayals and corruption, not sure what turn to take or whom to trust. As they are torn between relationships and survival, a deeper secret emerges, threatening not only their own plans and lives but the entire political structure and detente of the galaxy.

Sailor to a Siren is classic science fiction, belonging to the genre that gave us Dune and The Sardonyx Net, complex, multi-layered, multi-generational examinations of politics, ethics and personal choice, combined in this instance with rapid, bloody, action and strong prose. Author Zoë Sumra’s world-building is the best I have seen in a very very long time, conjuring with minimal explanation a developed, complex universe where family, sector, marriage, and magic all interconnect to create a hierarchical structure whose subtle nuances concerning power and influence unfold over the course of the novel. As Logan and Connor are drawn more deeply into the conflicts among the sectors, their own choices, forced on them at times at bewildering speed, are not simple, nor are they portrayed as such. Sumra shows us the difficulty and anguish of such choices in the context of this universe, making the brothers (and other characters) fully-realized people, without moralizing or over-describing.

The magic of Sailor to a Siren is integral to the novel, but this is no high-fantasy story. Magic is, and it is at the heart of the power structures and the conflicts into which Logan and Connor are drawn. Again, the structure, parameters and power of magic in this world are revealed as part of the story, glimpses and hints and demonstration showing again the skill of the author in subtle, effective world-building.

This is one of the rare books where I have no ‘niggle’ to report. Production quality in the ARC PDF copy I read was faultless. The pacing of the novel is rapid, with the writing matching the action, punctuated with descriptions of stunning precision and beauty: “Strobe lights and neon danced patterns in the carnival night, now and then kaleidoscoped by flurries of rain.” Passages like these are scattered throughout the book, allowing the reader a brief pause from the action, and an opportunity to appreciate the beauty inherent in this dark and violent world.

Five stars – five stars plus, if I could – for this outstanding debut novel.

The author provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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