“Seven years ago, Rebecca St. Martin took the coward’s path to save her skin. She has lived with that decision, eking out a life as an indentured servant on a space station far from home. Only now, fate has decided to give Rebecca another chance. A ghost from her past plans to execute a daring rescue from the prison bowels of the station Rebecca now works.
Rebecca has to face the same decision she made all those years ago. Could she watch her friends be murdered? Or could she, just for once, be a hero?”
Traitor is a bit different than my usual fare (as regular readers know, I lean way more towards fantasy than SF), but having read Ball’s excellent What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank I wanted to give her fiction a go, and to finally give her a custom drink to call her very own. Plus, with Space Opera taking a square on this year’s bingo card, it seemed like a match made in heaven. 🙂
The story starts out with a bang, various news snippets painting us a picture of the downfall of Earth, each new fragment escalating the sense of panic and impending doom. It’s a great worldbuilding device and Ball does an excellent job of showing us what a desperate situation humanity is in. This is followed by our introduction to Rebecca St. Martin, who is living a miserable existence as an indentured servant on a space station.
Rebecca is not a hero – far from it. Instead of fighting for humanity, she collaborated with the enemy. She is a coward – a traitor. She is passive, meek, and utterly crippled by depression and self-loathing. Not your usual protagonist. It’s refreshing to have a protagonist who doesn’t immediately leap into action to do the right thing, and anti-heroes are a dime a dozen. That’s not to say that Rebecca is always fun to read, but she’s imbued with enough good humor and tenacity that it keeps her relatable. Not to mention her affinity for hot chocolate and Jane Austen – now you’re talking my language. Plus there’s plenty of inventive swearing that also serves as worldbulding, so +1 for that.
Traitor is a fast-paced novel teeming with action and dark themes, written in a style that is easily absorbed. However, the breakneck pacing does require that much of the exposition takes place in the dialogue, which can be tricky to adjust to if that isn’t your cup of tea. I found that after a few chapters I was able to settle in and let it carry me along, and it became a quick and easy read, if not a light one.
Rebecca’s history is touched on at several points throughout the book, in particular her relationship with her former love, Katherine. Their partnership is shown to have been somewhat turbulent, with a fear of commitment leading to an incident that is frequently on Rebecca’s mind. She has wrongly believed for some years that Kat died on Earth with all her friends and family, so when Kat walks back into her life and requests her help in freeing some important political prisoners who are trapped in a secret prison facility on the space station, Rebecca must decide where her loyalties lie.
The portrayal of the secondary characters is going to be a sticking point for some – my attitude tends to be that I don’t mind if a character is likeable so long as they’re well-written and interesting (which they certainly are), but I suspect I’m in the minority on this one. People like having someone they can get behind and cheer on, where in Traitor even the protagonist is hesitant and filled with doubt. Ball’s secondary characters are, by and large, not nice people. Their motivations are clear, but we don’t necessarily root for them even when their cause is worthy. I found it to be a nice change of pace, but YMMV.
Overall, I’d say Traitor was a quick and enjoyable read that has left me interested to try some of Ball’s more fantasy heavy novels, as well as curious to dip my toe a little further into the Space Opera subgenre. I’d say that’s a win.
Bingo Squares 2018
- Fewer than 2500 GR Ratings
- Single Word Title
- Space Opera