Review: Barbary Station

When someone pitches a book to you as “lesbian pirates in space,” it’s hard not to be interested especially when you’re talking to someone who writes for Tosche Station. (We have a type here and we’re not sorry.) That’s how Barbary Station by R.E. Stearns was pitched to me: lesbian space pirates along with a side of Firefly. Who wouldn’t be intrigued? If only the book itself had caught me as fast as the premise.

Stearns’ debut novel, Barbary Station, is about two engineers who decide that their best way forward in life is to hijack a spaceship and join a pirate crew. One problem: they don’t know that the pirate crew is stuck on a space station that’s controlled completely by a rogue AI and won’t let anyone leave. That makes it a little tricky for a pirate group to successfully lead a life of crime and profit and it especially makes it hard when the Pirate Captain won’t accept you into as a part of their crew until after you beat the AI thereby freeing them from the station. What could possibly go wrong? (A lot. A lot of things are going to go wrong.)

Barbary Station throws you right into the middle of things but also starts a little slow, which admittedly sounds like a contradiction. It took awhile to really catch my attention and hold it. That’s partially due to being tossed into an entirely new universe and trying to figure out the rules. It took some time for me to really figure out who Adda and Iridian (our main characters) were as people and even as the book progressed, I occasionally struggled with knowing whose head we were in at any given time. Because while the book does start with a bang, it suffers somewhat as Adda and Iridian settle into life on Barbary Station and it feels like we’re constantly waiting for something to start. It took a little over halfway through until I felt fully engaged. Once the book did kick into gear and especially towards the end, it was hard to put down. That was due in great part to the story delving more into everything involving the artificial intelligence. I wish that more of the book had directly involved this.

What I did like about the book is that the main characters weren’t quite as expected. Usually, when one says the leads are space pirates, you expect said characters to principally be fighters or warriors. Stearns does something different: Adda and Iridian are engineers (software and mechanical respectively even if that’s a bit of an oversimplification.) It’s a neat new spin on the pirate trope. Captain Sloane is another character worth mentioning given their gender ambiguity. It comes up within the story several times as Adda and Iridian aren’t sure what pronouns for use for Sloane but the other characters just tell them that “captain” is the only one they need; a refreshing approach to how gender is portrayed in books.

While I wanted to really love Barbary Station, it took just a little too long to really catch my attention and never really delivered on the promise of the premise. If you’re interested in the book, I’d still say give it a try as I didn’t dislike it. It just won’t be making any of my favorite recommendation lists any time soon.

Thank you to Wuderkind PR and Saga Press for providing a copy of the book for review purposes. Stay tuned for further discussion as this is this month’s Book Club pick.

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