With such an intriguing title and the information that one of the story’s characters is a sentient bio-ship, it was inevitable that You Sexy Thing would end up on my TBR, and that I would have fun with it. It’s a quick read, and maybe a little on the light side as far as background and characterization are concerned, but since many elements in the story seem to indicate this novel might be a series starter, I will take this book as an introduction and keep hoping that some stronger developments will come along in the following installments.
Niko Larsen and her team now manage the Last chance restaurant on the remote Twice Far space station, but they once used to be soldiers enrolled by the Holy Hive Mind, a political/military conglomerate focused on expansion (think of a somewhat milder version of Star Trek’s Borg): to stay out of the HHM’s clutches, Niko and her people must demonstrate that their venture is an artistically successful one, and therefore the promised arrival of famous food critic Lolola drives them to excel in their culinary offerings, so that they might be granted a prized Nikkelin Orb to show their value as a renowned eating establishment. Even the best-laid plans are subject to unforeseen events, though, and a set of peculiar circumstances sees our heroes trapped aboard the sentient ship You Sexy Thing, bound for a prison planet with no possibility of changing course. What ensues is a series of madcap adventures including a detour toward a pirate enclave and the arrival of a stasis-bound princess whose care has been entrusted to Niko by an unknown sender.
The various narrative threads that form the novel’s structure might seem a little confusing, but fortunately they combine into an engaging plot that remains interesting from start to finish. If the characters are not explored in real depth, their interactions are quite fun and their mutual relationships offer many intriguing angles that, in turn, help to better focus on this variegated universe. Niko Larsen (and later on princess Atlanta) are the only humans in the group, since the rest of the crew is of alien origin: Dabry, once Niko’s XO and now the restaurant’s chef, is a four-armed humanoid; the twins Thorn and Talon can morph into lion’s form and are possessed of the same unquenchable energy as feline puppies; Gio is an evolved apelike creature who can communicate only through hand gestures; Milly is the pastry chef and looks like an avian; Skidoo (my absolute favorite!) is a squid-like being and – last but not least – Lassite is a reptilian mystic with the ability to perceive the future. What makes these alien creatures interesting is that they are quite believably alien in mindset and behavior, not only in appearance, and what’s more important is that they have created a family-like bond whose basis might have been born in the mind link that bound them during their military service, but is now the product of many shared experiences and the affection and care that those experiences consolidated among them.
Of course once the group is onboard the You Sexy Thing, another character comes to the fore – the ship itself: as a bio-ship, the Thing possess the ability to adapt and change its environment according to the passengers’ requirements, and it’s also able to interact with them, but we soon understand that the previous owners did not take many steps in expanding the Thing’s capabilities. Thanks to the time spent with Niko’s crew – starting with Dabry and his culinary performances – the Thing understands there is more to its existence than it was able to perceive before, and the ship initiates a process of growth and transformation that is a true joy to behold.
[…] they had interacted with [the Thing] as though it were another person, there in the room with them. All of its owners had treated it simply like a thing, and before the ship had always thought that was the norm. Now it knew there was a different way.
Where the book falters a little, however, is in the presentation of the antagonists: the pirate overlord comes across almost like a caricature, his focus on revenge and torture is presented in such a way as to create a dissonance with the story’s previous tone, while the insistence on the “evilness” of the character seems to deprive it of any realistic connotation. On this subject I have to admit that the choice of inserting a character’s death as part of the pirate’s “dastardly plot” introduced a jarring note in what had so far been an adventurous/humorous narrative mood: this death brings serious consequences for the group and adds a more dramatic layer to the story, but I’m still struggling to envision it as an organic part of the plot.
The novel’s world building needs some stronger foundations as well: apart from learning about the existence of the Holy Hive Mind, of a large Empire (to which princess Atlanta is one of the designated heirs), of the pirate conglomerate and of the space bound society of the Free Traders, we don’t know much about this universe and I for one would have loved to learn a few more details – that’s where my hope that there will be other books about Niko & Co. makes me look more favorably on this novel.
Still, to close on a positive note, I have to say that I liked very much all mentions of cooking and food: story-wise they are part of the bonding process of the group in their new life, and of the group with the Thing, but on a personal level I enjoyed them because I do love to cook and to experiment with new recipes – one of the reasons I felt a great connection with Dabry and his fascination with ingredients 🙂
In the end, I had fun with You Sexy Thing and that’s what I was looking for when I picked it up, but still I would have liked to find more in this story: should the author decide to write more adventures featuring Niko Larsen, her crew and the adorable Thing, she will certainly find me there glad to follow them.