Monday, 10 April 2017

In Ageless Sleep, Arden Ellis

You couldn't trust beauty when it came from a place like that. But that didn't stop Mal's eyes from sticking to that face like hull-sealing glue.
Mal is a spy, a misanthrope, and a coward; growing up in the brutal Reaches has taught her that honor is a quality best left to the dead. Her latest mission: to hijack a cryo-ship carrying the brilliant daughter of the Sovereign King, and deliver her straight into enemy hands. 

But when a vital component of the ship’s cryostasis system malfunctions, the only person who can keep the unconscious passengers alive is the woman Mal was sent to kidnap. Alone together on a ship of silent sleepers, Mal must remember that she and Aurora are enemies—or risk them becoming something much more dangerous.
* * *
3 / 5

In Ageless Sleep is a tiny little sci-fi/lesbian novella clocking in at about 17,000 words. Mal is a spy, grown up and grown old in the Reaches; Aurora, or "Rory", is the daughter of the Sovereign King and in cryostasis on the way to a scientific mission when Mal hijacks her ship. When a system disasters strikes, Rory is the only one who might be able to help Mal save the ship.

"I'm not much of a conversationalist," Mal replied without feeling.  
"Luckily for you, I'm a captive audience."

I always have a strange relationship with novellas. I'm in awe of anyone who can pack a good plot, developed characters, and good worldbuilding into a scant handful of pages. In Ageless Sleep manages to do each of these and add in a splash of good humour, but the romantic relationship isn't particularly well developed, unsurprising given the shortness of this book. The thing with novellas is that they almost always leave me wanting more and I feel a touch cheated because I'd just got invested in the characters and then, wham, it's over - In Ageless Sleep is no exception. 

The setting is briefly sketched: the Sovereign planets promised a new life to the poor masses, sending them out on ships to new worlds. When these worlds proved to be not-so-inhabitable, the Sovereigns didn't want them back. Thus began a very long-distance, century-spanning war. Now Mal's here to try and end it forever with the kidnapping of the King's daughter. 

The haze and confusion lifted off her like ice breaking from a ship's hull in the atmosphere

There's a bit of action, a bit of coding and sci-fi references, but mostly In Ageless Sleep is a character study of Mal. There are about two plot twists, neither of which are hard to guess, so the value of In Ageless Sleep lies in how much you connect to Mal and Rory. I liked Mal, torn between her duty and fear of her punishment for failing her task, and the young woman she has begun to spend more time with as an attempt to stave off loneliness. I didn't feel like there was much to Rory, however. She's had a privileged life but is emotionally closed off and doesn't get along well with her father. 

On the whole, In Ageless Sleep is an interesting little novella that is well worth giving a chance. It was particularly lovely to read a lesbian sci-fi romance, I haven't found too many of those!

My thanks to Netgalley, the publisher, and the author for an ARC of this book.

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