Book Review: Refuge by J.J. Blacklocke


J.J. Blacklocke

Title: Refuge by J.J. Blacklocke
Rating: 4 stars
Publisher: Aethon Books

I'm a sucker for stories set on space stations and this also had trade, politics and diplomacy so I had to request this on Netgalley. Add in some planetary destruction and I was completely intrigued.

There's a huge convocation going on at Tradepoint with many beings from an array of planets and the Vennan has arrived with a delegation of just under a thousand people to participate. The diplomatic arm of the delegation includes Gredin a translator, on her first assignment fresh off her honeymoon. Tetrelanna, known as The Voice is who she is subordinate to and fairly quickly it's clear this is not a good working relationship. Tetrelanna has barely concealed contempt for her translator and also seems temperamentally not to be suited to diplomatic endeavours. The rest of their direct party includes Cirin and Burlon, both Travelers (Burlon is also a Trader for his House), Keegan, a historian and Sill, a Memory. The rest of the delegation are made up of many artisans, crafters, musicians, culinary experts and others with cultural expertise.

There's a lot covered here and many beings to meet. My favourites were the Prett because how could I not really be interested in the runners of the space station? Wyve is the Director of Tradepoint and had a good amount of characterization, so I was very pleased. Also, the Beng, Shodekekeen and the rest were fairly fascinating. While reading I was reminded of The Retrieval Artist series by Kristine Katherine Rusch because the non-humanoid beings were so well rendered and so varied. Also, there's a bit of a trial that highlights the deft dance of rules, laws and rendering of justice can come about when so many come together in order to maintain peace and trade ties. A small thing to one can be a catastrophe for another and just like reading KKR's series, it gave this reader a lot to think about. I loved that!

There's so much that happens but I'm not going to spoil because it was enjoyable to discover. That's not to say there were not a disappointment or two along the way. The Venna have a bit of fantasy woo-woo going on and while I don't need an explanation for it, I was a bit let down when Gredin is basically transformed overnight by this woo-woo thing from a grief-stricken person unable to do anything to help herself to a collected and steady person grasping the mantle of leader because Chosen One reasons. I wanted to see her grow into that role or at least marshal herself to the task. She lost a bit of that whole formidable bona fides with the woo-woo. To be fair, as this story takes place over about three days, she spends several chapters an inert crying mess after a calamitous situation and it was grating on my nerves. What can you do with compressed time? I certainly wouldn't have wanted to exist with her like that any longer than the story allowed but still. I did like that other characters voiced skepticism given the rapidity of the shift. But everything that followed the woo-woo was excellent.

This is the first book in either a duo or series (I'm not sure which) but I am inclined to read the next. There's enough given and this ends at such a pivotal point that I want to know more. Who did it? Why? What did Palomar have to do with whatever to suffer its fate? What will become of the Vennan when their rotations on Tradepoint have elapsed? What will the Beng do next? I mean, I have many questions so... this is good.

I should also mention there are a lot of in-universe words and there's no glossary but with context, a reader can likely work out what things and meanings are. Honestly, the names and such felt so much like SFF Random Name Generator outputs, and made only more noticeable when one of the characters has such a normal human name, Keegan. I wondered why he was so different (great character, btw).

Recommended. I'll be on the outlook for the next book and would read another by Blacklocke, no question.

Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the Advance Readers Copy.

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