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Review: Flotsam – R.J. Theodore

Flotsam - R J Theodore

Genre: Sci-Fantasy, Steampunk

LGBTQ+ Category: Bisexual, Gay

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About The Book

R J Theodore has a new Science Fantasy Steampunk book out: Flotsam. And there’s a giveaway!

Captain Talis just wants to keep her airship crew from starving, and maybe scrape up enough cash for some badly needed repairs. When an anonymous client offers a small fortune to root through a pile of atmospheric wreckage, it seems like an easy payday. The job yields an ancient ring, a forbidden secret, and a host of deadly enemies.

Now on the run from cultists with powerful allies, Talis needs to unload the ring as quickly as possible. Her desperate search for a buyer and the fallout from her discovery leads to a planetary battle between a secret society, alien forces, and even the gods themselves.

Talis and her crew have just one desperate chance to make things right before their potential big score destroys them all.

Warnings: genocide plots, bigotry, racism, classism, obsessive ex-lover, violence, gore, grief and loss, religious dogma, law breaking, manipulation, hostage situations, claustrophobia, anxiety, frustration, guilt, lies and deception, betrayal.

The Review

A couple months ago, one of my author friends passed away. Rekka (published as R.J. Theodore) wasn’t a close friend, but we had worked together on a few projects at SFWA in the Indie Author Committee, and I had previously read and reviewed their book The Bantam, which I praised for its truly alien but still relatable protagonist. I also had the pleasure of interviewing Rekka for my Author Spotlight.

We did a tour for the rerelease of the first book in Rekka’s Peridot Shift trilogy. Books one and two were previously published, but the publisher had gone out of business, and Rekka was working to get both books republished and finish and publish the third, all while fighting cancer.

The new cover for Flotsam had always intrigued me, and so when I heard that Rekka had passed, I bought all three and settled in to read them, something I wish I’d been able to do while Rekka was still here.

And what a marvelous first book it is. Peridot is unlike any other world in the known universe. A great tragedy occurred there, all but destroying the original world, but the bits and pieces were pulled back together by the mysterious alchemy of the five current gods, who fashioned a strange new world of scattered islands floating within a breathable atmosphere, with a glowing green “nexus” at its heart. Each of these gods fashioned people in their own images – the Cutter, the Bone, the Vein, the breaker, and the Rakkar people. There’s a handy section covering each of these and their traits at the end of the book.

Together, they have built a new civilization over the course of seventy-five generations—or should I say three new civilizations—Cutter, Bone and Vein—each competing with the others for limited resources. The Cutter Empire is the largest of the three, controlling about half of Peridot.

The book starts off in media res, as Talis, the bisexual captain of the Wind Saber, finds herself dipping into the later of flotsam which gives the book its title, in search of a prize that would bring in enough money to repair her struggling airship, the Wind Sabre. Manned by her fiercely loyal crew—Dug, Tisker and Sophie—The Wind Sabre is about to find herself in serious danger, chased by the Imperials, hunted by assassins and courted by a strange alien race, the Yu’Nyun. All of them vying for the strange ring Talis recovers from a ship in the flotsam.

It’s an amazing ride through a world full of wonders, including the strange islands of SubRosa (I see what you did there), where much of the criminal underworld literally hangs from the underside of the island) and Fall Island, a Bone Island made mostly of sand and rock. Theodore’s worldbuilding genius is on full display, especially in the battle scenes where losing your envelope of hot air—or your engines—is likely to mean death in the flotsam.

But their true genius is in the characters, especially the crew of the Wind Sabre. Each has their own backstory, and although the whole tale is told through Talis’s eyes—a risky choice for a sci-fantasy book that reads more like an epic fantasy—I rarely felt confined.

Talis is a fascinating character in her own right – bi (or maybe demi), she is attracted to several characters, male and female, during the story, but rarely lets that distract her. She’s a jumble of doubts about her life choices, current and past, and how they affect her crew, and always worried about losing them. But despite this—or maybe because of the vulnerability she shows to us and her crewmates, she makes a very appealing character.

Dug, her right-hand, has a dark past, one that I won’t reveal here, and he’s probably the most enigmatic of the crew, but he’d take a blade for Talis, without question.

Sophie is the engineer and dreamer, hoping to one day captain her own ship (which she has meticulously designed) and the most likely of the crew to eventually abandon Talis.

And then there’s Tisker, a homeless kid who begged for a place on the crew, and quickly grew into such a natural pilot that Talis can’t imagine losing the little rascal.

The plot moves quickly as things progress from bad to worse, finally leading Talis and hew crew into the heart of the world with a few surprising companions.

Flotsam is a frothy (sometimes blood-frothy) blend of fantasy and sci-fi, an exhilarating voyage through a strange new world in the company of a fascinating collection of characters, with a satisfying ending that will both surprise you and whet your appetite for the next volume, Salvage. I’m so glad I finally read it. I only wish Rekka was still here, so I could tell them how much I enjoyed it.

The Reviewer

Scott is the founder of Queer Sci Fi, and a fantasy and sci fi writer in his own right, with more than 30 published short stories, novellas and novels to his credit, including two trilogies.

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