Read by Nicola Barber.
This is a good old-fashioned space opera that focuses on the people in a sci-fi setting. In this case it’s on an incompetently, apathetically settled Mars. The misfit settlers of Mars stoically face the hardships Mars throws at them and unite as one in their hatred for the corrupt corporation, the British Arean Company, which bungled the Martian colonization. With an unexpected discovery, Mars’ future starts to look brighter but for whom? Most of the action centers on the only Martian pub, The Empress of Mars, and her feisty proprietress Mary Griffith. It is based on a Hugo-nominated novella.
There’s a little bit of something for everyone in this story: intrigue, plebs fighting against the man, action adventure, romance, pioneer spirit, outcasts triumphing against all odds, cows in space. In many ways the novel does seem like it was built out of a smaller more focused idea and I can see how it would have worked really well as a novella. At times, it feels like a series of loosely connected vignettes strung together with Mary and her pub being the tie that binds. Sometimes this structure works, sometimes not.
While Mary stands as a focal point this is really an ensemble piece with her three daughters, her customers, the agriculturists of Clan Morrigan, the damaged souls she’s taken under her wing who work at the pub playing big roles creating the ambience. It is definitely a world where the respectable, normal folk are not really the good guys. It’s the freaks and geeks that are the best sort though it’s worth mentioning that very few of the quirky characters are all that quirky. They are, however, charming company even if we don’t get to know any of them too deeply.
The narration is well done with none of the voices sounding forced. She does a number of accents most of them decently (Cockney, American, Australian, Nepalese).
It’s a universe in which I enjoyed spending time and often felt immersed and I was usually glad, if not anxious, to get back to the story after a break. A fun light read for folks who enjoy sci-fi, westerns, and character and place driven books.