You Sexy Thing by Cat Rambo
You Sexy Thing (2021) is space opera, with no FTL chase scenes or space battles. Check the list of ingredients: a sentient bioship, space pirates, old feuds, at least one interstellar-conquest scheme, interesting non-human characters, a newcomer with secrets, and lots of cooking. It’s a foolproof recipe for entertainment.
All Niko needs is a Nikkelin Orb award from the food critic coming to the Last Chance, the restaurant she runs with the rest of her ex-military crew. Niko was a captain, briefly an admiral, in the Holy Hive Mind army, and her connection to most of her retired crew was augmented by the hive-tech. It felt like they were all one. Technically, they are all retired, but the Holy Hive doesn’t like to let go of its soldiers. Niko’s pursuing a long-range plan to rescue a childhood friend kidnapped by space pirates, and a successful restaurant is one step in that plan. Tonight, the food critic’s review will boost the Last Chance’s profile and their revenues.
Of course, nothing goes that way. There’s something a little off about the food critic, but before Niko can scope out what it is, the space station they’re on is nearly vaporized and they barely manage to escape to the sentient AI bioship You Sexy Thing. Once they’re on board, the ship decides they are thieves, and locks in a course for the nearest prison planet.
Things get worse from there.
Niko plans and plots to save her crew, while around them, the bioship begins to experience emotions, leading to a moment of awakening. You Sexy’s Thing’s growth was my favorite part of the book. Well… that and the food.
Fans of John Scalzi’s space opera books will enjoy You Sexy Thing. The prose style is brisk and inviting, and Rambo expertly captures a sense of a much larger world (I don’t mean planet) existing around these characters. The book uses omniscient point of view, and while we dip into nearly every character’s head at some point, the suspense and tension never slacken.
I was jarred by the horrible death of one character, a harsh reminder that the stakes here are high for Niko and her friends. While several of the villains, or at least adversaries, like the Arranti, never make a direct appearance in the book, the villain who does, pirate Tubal Last, is easy to hate—and it gets easier to hate him the more we see of him.
Non-human crew members like Skidoo and uplifted chimpanzee Gio are fleshed out with real hopes, dreams, quirks and issues. Rambo add tidbits of realism, like with the octopus-based Skidoo, who usually has to wear a paste on her skin to avoid drying out. Rambo makes an interesting choice in the book, which I’m sure will get a few space opera “purists” up in arms—some races have magic, and the Hive Mind utilizes it.
As you noticed from the “Nikkelin Orb,” Rambo has some in-jokes along the way. Much of the humor derives from the characters, such as the lengths Dabry, the second-in-command, will go to get a real eggplant. I award this book a Nikkelin Orb for tasty fun.
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