Review – Goodbye to the Sun, Jonathan Nevair ★★★★☆

Goodbye to the Sun is a space opera which will immediately fool you in to believing in its world and its politics. Unlike some stories, it’s not flat and only relying on what’s on the page before you. It feel as though there is so much more that you can almost see beyond what is written as this intergalactic civilisation is so similar to our own despite the vast differences that also exist.

It’s a book that has grown on me ever since I finished reading it. The more I consider its story, the issues it tackles, the conflicts it captures and everything else about it, the more I find myself wanting to go back.

It wasn’t without fault but it’s a very good debut and promises a lot for the rest of its series.

Tucked away in the blue sands of Kol 2, the Motes are on the brink of cultural collapse. Razor, a bold and daring pilot, leads a last-ditch gambit against their local oppressors, the Targitians. The plan – abduct visiting Ambassador Keen Draden and use him as a bargaining chip to restore her people’s independence in the Sagittarius Arm. But when the operation unravels, Razor is forced to renegotiate terms with the arrogant diplomat. Battling furious Wind Tides and pursuit by an infamous bounty hunter, Razor and Keen find mutual assistance in a dubious freelancer with a knack for exposing cracks in people’s pride.

Light years away on Heroon a radical resistance blossoms. The alluring rainforest planet haunts Keen. All his problems started there during the Patent War, but it’s where Razor’s troubles may find a solution. The moral tide ebbs, exposing an impossible choice that links their futures together more tragically than they ever thought possible.

The first chapter drew me in to Goodbye to the Sun as much as any book ever has. True it seems a little bit cliché in some ways but that didn’t bother me.

In its chapters, Goodbye to the Sun switches between two perspectives. The first is Razor’s. She is an indigenous inhabitant of Kol 2 who is recalling her experiences and struggles by the side of Keen Draden. These are first person accounts and I liked the use of dramatic irony here and the critical eye with which Razor is able to reassess her own decisions in the past and all that transpired.

The second set of chapters follow Keen Draden directly. These are told as if they are in the present but Razor has often alluded to significant moments in her own accounts which builds the anticipation of reading Keen’s chapters. Keen has been sent as an ambassador to Kol 2 on behalf of the Council but this is merely a formality to appear as though they have attempted every diplomatic course of action before relying on a more direct enforcement of their will.

I must confess here to not being in the right head space and not paying enough attention in the early chapters to the politics at play. I was assuming that this was a case of the Council versus the Targitians on Kol 2 but this book is much more complex. There are constant waves of rebellion. The Targitians oppose the energy demands of the Council. The Motes oppose the Targitians as they have driven them from their natural home and corrupted the landscape. Beyond Kol 2 there are even more isolated cases of rebellion against oppression.

Fair to say there are far more layers to this story than I had anticipated so I was playing catch up throughout a lot of the book but it was worth the effort. There are many different causes being fought for here and each of them seemed justified in their dispute.

This is where Goodbye to the Sun becomes a tale of compromise.

Allegiances are fluid and there are many instances in this book of having to surrender certain hopes in pursuit of a greater good. No one wants to turn their back on their morals but there has to be a plausible course of action to follow towards that end and sometimes a step in the right direction is better than nothing at all.

So the politics are complicated, layered and very well done (if, unlike me, you are paying enough attention at the start and keeping up with the new sides and opinions being introduced) but there are many other aspects to this book.

Nevair’s writing is consistently poetic. One quote that stuck with me from the very beginning was when he talks about the relationship between the Motes and the land they live in. Razor says,

“The desert wind blew through my blood. From an expanse of dunes, I learned to speak arid words.”

and it was something I kept thinking about. This is a book about liberation from foreign oppressors and I like that this quote stuck with me almost as a reason behind the struggle and as a constant reminder of Razor’s character.

I felt perhaps that the first few chapters were too fast, jumping from one scenario to the next in a chaotic set of skirmishes and while this may be the reality of war, it didn’t seem as though therer was enough of a chance to get to know the characters in these earliest chapters. However, Nevair seemed to settle into his writing and I couldn’t fault the progression in the second half of the book. Once the pace calmed, I felt the relationship between Razor and Keen was much more satisfying to watch unfold. It was always going to be turbulent but I still enjoyed experiencing the highs knowing that there would be lows yet to come.

Another minor issue I had was Keen’s flexibility. I liked that he was a character open to change and growth but felt that this was perhaps overdone. Unless the book took place over a longer span of time than I had realised while reading, I felt that Keen was too quick to change sides. There were points were you could see him doubting his current position but when the changes came they were sudden and complete whereas Razor seemed to be much more stubborn in her ambition and perhaps more believable for it.

But overall these were details that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story as a whole. I loved the conflict between family and state, the monopolistic system set up and the imagination that Nevair pours into every page. I was worried when a sandy planet appeared at the start that it was set to be another Arrakis or Tatooine (from Dune and Star Wars) but Nevair made it his own. With lines like

The voice of Kol 2 whispered, fluttering the white fabric in the silent desert evening’

he gives the sand a life of its own but also doesn’t become so attached to this location that he is unwilling to leave and introduce the reader to new planets and new star systems.

This more than anything else gives me a great deal of hope for this series. Goodbye to the Sun was a great story of two warriors each fighting for different but equally personal causes but it only felt like it scratched the surface of this setting. What comes next? I really couldn’t guess but if it’s more of the same following the wave of political change spreading throughout the Sagittarius Arm, I’m on board!

So to leave with a quote that captures the overall ambition of the series (as far as I understand it from this first entry),

‘The more time I spent with Keen and Jati, the more I understood the complicated nature of our world. Of how one small isolated planet’s problems couldn’t be separated from the rest of the Arm.’

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