Solaris | 2016 (3 November) | 320p | Review copy | Buy the book
In The Star of the Sea, Una McCormack returns us to Weird Space, that most terrifying, mysterious and inexplicable of places in which, at any moment, a portal can open and the clawed and fanged Weird will tear through it to rip their human prey to shreds. This is the fourth Weird Space novel but, although you needn’t have read all three of the earlier novels, you certainly should have read the last – The Baba Yaga. In The Baba Yaga, Una McCormack took the storytelling baton from Eric Brown and now, in The Star of the Sea, she continues her tale. I don’t think that much of this novel would make sense if you hadn’t have read The Baby Yaga. This review assumes you’ve had the pleasure.
Stella Maris is ‘the Star of the Sea’, an Eden of a planet, remote from the political warfare of the Expansion, which is obsessed by the Weird. It’s not surprising that the Expansion planets fear the Weird. They not only slaughter humans in their thousands, they also spread infection and, once that portal has opened, the Expansion is left with no choice but to remove that world from existence. But Stella Maris exists outside this. It has a portal and through it the Weird has presented a benevolent influence, giving life to an otherwise hostile planet. And on this plant, humans live alongside the Vetch, an alien and very different intelligent species that was for many years the enemy of mankind until the threat of the Weird resulted in an uneasy alliance. All, though, is well on Stella Maris. Until the Expansion arrives, determined to discover the secret of this extraordinary portal.
The Star of the Sea continues the stories of Maria and Falit, the young Vetch child who steals every page on which he appears. I adore him. How could anyone not? Just a short time ago, a heavily pregnant woman entered the portal on Stella Maris and now a teenage girl, Cassandra, has emerged from it, claiming, surely impossibly, to be that child. Yale, a woman with an almost equally mysterious past, must remove Cassandra from the planet before the Expansion finds her. Cassandra somehow knows what she must do, where she must go. And meanwhile, the Expansion wreaks its havoc on a world that doesn’t deserve it.
The Star of the Sea follows straight on from The Baba Yaga but they are two quite different novels. While The Baba Yaga was mostly action-based, following Maria’s determined struggle to survive, to carry her story of a great evil done to her family and planet to anyone who will listen, The Star of the Sea is driven by character. There is still plenty of action but now the emphasis is on the people who shape it, particularly Yale, Falit and Maria, as well as a young Expansion scientist now stationed on Stella Maris and an agent located in the city of Ventna on the Expansion homeworld. The battle between good and evil is now drawn along far less clear lines as we move between the different sides, every one of them suspicious. The Weird, though, can never be known.
Much of our time is spent on Stella Maris but we also visit other places as the Baba Yaga starship makes another voyage. I love how these places, whether ship, space station or city, are brought to life. This isn’t worldbuilding for the sake of it, it fits so well with the story and the pursuit of the mystery at its core.
The characters are so good to be around and it was only on looking back that I realised how the majority of the memorable figures are female. An issue is never made of this. It’s just how things are. And I loved being around them – except when Yale is grumpy, which is, admittedly, most of the time. But, as I’ve mentioned before, the Fetch child Falit is my favourite, with his lovely hairy tentacled face, and every minute we spend with him is wonderful. The Vetch are a brilliant creation. I want more of them.
Weird Space is utterly fascinating, from its politics and conspiracies to its aliens both charming and revolting, and I love what Una McCormack is doing with it, a worthy successor to the most excellent Eric Brown. The Star of the Sea feels like a conclusion to this two-part segment of Weird Space. This means that I can’t wait to find out what comes next because in this universe anything can happen and you can rely on it being frightening, mysterious and dangerous.
The Baba Yaga