Salvage is the first book by Alexandra Duncan. It is a Young Adult Science Fiction novel with a pro-female message. I read it in the last few days and wanted to get my thoughts here before they are gone. This novel wasn’t perfect, but it had something that kept me reading until the end. So, that is definitely saying something.
I did not, however, love this book. I wanted to, but I didn’t. Which, now that I think about it, is sort of a shame.
Ava is a 17-year-old young woman on the space ship Parastrata. She is an outcast among her own people both in looks and in ancestry. Three generations ago her grandfather came to the Parastrata, married, and fathered a child. He passed his looks onto his daughter and Ava inherited them years later. It happens from time to time among Ava’s people along with other ships; bringing outside blood into the genetic pool helps to stave off generations of inbreeding. It helps to strengthen the blood. Ava dyes her hair red to blend in, but her darker skin has always been a problem that she cannot change.
Ava’s people are male dominated. The men take care of the inner politics, the engineering, and any contact with Earth. Women are deemed too weak for such tasks since they are susceptible to Earth’s pull that draw them towards the planet like a magnet. Women are also found to be inferior with facts, numbers, and anything intellectual. As such they are relegated to mundane, domestic chores and told to keep their heads down. That Ava can do simple figures and mechanical fixes sets her apart. She hides her abilities, knowing that they are just one more thing that will remind people of her Earth bred genetics.
Ava’s best hope is when another ship’s captain arranges a marriage for her. Thinking that she has been matched as first-wife to Luck, a handsome 19-year-old, she succumbs to his pressure and loses her virginity to him. This one action becomes Ava’s undoing in her community and for her future with Aether, Luck’s ship. Now, she must make a choice to abide by the decision of her people or to run to Earth and maybe eke out a future for herself there.
At times I found myself underwhelmed by the pacing of this book. It’s a long Young Adult novel by normal YA standards but feels longer because of the pacing. The final copy spans 520 pages and there are times when not a lot happens. I found myself wondering where the novel was going and hoping that the ending would deliver a punch worthy of the novel. As far as the ending goes… I guess I was underwhelmed by that as well. It makes sense given the context of everything that precedes it. However, by the time the ending came, and Ava makes her final, tumultuous decision, I was a little over the whole novel. I think this could have used some editing to improve the pacing.
And, speaking of editing, there is a bad typo in the final copy. For a chapter a character is introduced as Dayo. Her name is that for the first part of the chapter. She disappears for a few pages and shows up as Doya for the rest of the chapter. This would be chapter 24, pages 315 -325 (for anyone who wants to double-check). I have access to an e-arc AND a physical ARC as well, and it’s messed up in all three formats. Pity, you think someone would have noticed this in the time it took to edit a manuscript (probably several times) and then print the hardcovers. I only noticed it because I put the book down and came back to it later. I had to return to the beginning of the chapter to see who Duncan was talking about only to discover the misspelling. It makes me wonder what Duncan intended her name to be?
Ava was an interesting character, with her “right so” language and her Parastrata crew dialect. In truth, it took me a while to get the rhythm of her words since many of them seem out-of-place or unnecessary. She is very polite and passive about her language and it never completely leaves her months later. Besides that, she is a character who does grow throughout the book but she never feels as if she changes. For me, she felt as “different” as she was going to be right from the first page when it was obvious that she was never wholly accepted within her own crew. She also did things on the sly, learning numbers and then remedial math. As such her personal journey is more internal and subtle. As she is exposed to more culture outside of the Parastrata she begins to see that women do not have the limitations that she was reared with. It helps to allow her to become more comfortable in her own skin. Since her growth is so slow I don’t know if that helps with the pacing issue. The first period in the Gyre, a community that salvage garbage for scrap, is probably the time where she makes the most change. I think that might be a result of her spending weeks lying around recovering from gravity illness more than anything. There’s a lot of reflective passages in that part of the book.
One other thing that annoyed me was the sex shaming that was in this book. Granted, it’s completely within the confines of Ava’s society – she loses her virginity and everything spirals out of her control. She is reviled and rejected. For the rest of the book she regrets that decision and silently chastises herself for her own lewd ways. She questions her desires and her commitment to Luck, who may not even be alive any longer. It isn’t until a potential love interest tells her that it is immaterial to him whether she had another lover that she instantly lets go of her own shame. This really bothered me, that Ava had to be told, by a man no less, that she was in the clear with him sexually… that she needed his approval. This one thing felt as sexist as the earliest parts of the book. It deflated my expectation for a really feminist twist and I was annoyed for the rest of the book.
I’m not blown away with the book, I think that is fairly obvious. The message seemed pretty apparent to me from the first introduction of her crew when my thoughts were simply “Get out!” – A spaceship that subjugates women and forces them into marriages with men who will take multiple brides for their own whims… seems like there are only so many places that the author can go with that. The Ava that we know by the end of the book is leaps and bounds ahead of the Ava from the opening. However, she never completely comes into her own. There is a scene at the end that felt like the beginning of enlightened empowerment but I wanted more. I think I wanted to read Ava five years later, see where her progress has led her then. As this book stands it seemed like everyone helped her along the way, and that lost a bit of the power for me. I wanted more of a bang.
4 out of 5 stars.
– Follow the Reader –