Aetherbound by E.K. Johnston

cover image

As a fan of The Story of Owen : dragon slayer of Trondheim, and That inevitable Victorian thing  I was interested to pick up Aetherbound, a novel located in space. 17-year-old Pendt has lived aboard the interstellar freighter, Harland, all her life. Because of a mutation in her genes she is considered worthless, and given just enough food to stay alive. Unlike her siblings she has no star sense or skills that are needed on the ship, and is bullied and given the most menial tasks. Determined to find a better life rather than being forced to give birth to children for the ship, she stores up calories to give her enough energy to survive and creeps out of the ship during a space landing at Brannick Station. The Brannick twins, Ned and Fisher, left to manage the station when their parents were taken hostage by the Hegemony the ruling empire, see Pendt leave the ship and catch up with her in a bar. Together the trio hatch a plan helping each other gain the destinies that they most crave – Pendt able to use her genetic skills, Ned to join the rebels and Fisher to control the station.

Johnston writes a heart-wrenching and complex story in a relatively short 241 pages. The life that Pendt lives on board the Harland is described so vividly that it was easy to become immersed in her tribulations, imagining the hunger and fear that she feels all the time. The only person on board the ship to show her any kindness is Dr Morunt, who quietly tries to teach her about her genetic skills and allows her use of the library. Once on Brannick Station, with enough food to sustain her, she is able to use her intelligence to achieve remarkable things. She makes a deal with the twins to provide a male heir who can operate the Y chromosome-locked Net on the station that only Ned can do. In order to do this, she marries Ned, allowing him to join the rebels. Fisher does not have the Y chromosome, but does has the organising skills to run the station, and when Ned leaves, Pendt and Fisher’s feeling for each other grow steadily.

Aetherbound is a story that fans of science fiction and space opera would enjoy, as would readers who like complicated plots and heroines who overcome enormous odds. And readers might like to sample books by Anne Mccaffrey and Lois McMaster Bujold.

Themes: Science fiction, Survival, Space opera, Women.

Pat Pledger