Bonds of Brass, a queer space opera by Emily Skrutskie, might be just the novel you need if living on Earth really isn’t doing it for you right now.
Bonds of Brass tells the story of Ettian Nassun, an ace pilot trained by the empire that conquered his home planet. Ettian has a will-they-won’t-they relationship with Gal, a fellow pilot. The book begins at breakneck speed, as Ettian is forced to pull off a heroic rescue mission to save Gal from rebels still loyal to Ettian’s broken planet.
The politics of the world that Skrutskie creates are just complex enough to feel real, without being hard to follow in a book that focuses mainly on its characters rather than its setting. The space backdrop allows for some great stunts and action scenes, and the story unironically makes use of some well-worn space-opera tropes. Whether you’ll find the made-up swear words cheesy or charming (or both) is a matter of personal taste.
Ettian and Gal’s relationship is beautifully pulled off. There are enough twists and turns between them that it might as well be a journey in Ettian’s beloved ship, the Ruttin’ Hell. The slow-burn of their attraction to each other is expertly done, never rushed. The connection between them always feels deep, and they have a whole lot of chemistry – but the extra layer comes in the friction between them.
They fall away from each other and claw their way back to each other. By turns, the story had me rooting for them and wondering if they could ever really be happy together. The two of them aren’t written as soulmates – they aren’t perfect halves, destined to be together. Instead, they’re two people who can’t completely understand each other, but who want each other and are willing to sacrifice huge amounts to save each other and be together. It makes for a fun, compelling read.
As well as the romance, Bonds of Brass has Ettian form a friendship with the third main character of the book, Wen. Like Ettian, Wen has had to figure out how to survive on her own. The connection between the two of them, while not the star of the story, provides so much in the way of heart.
Wen and Ettian connect on levels that Gal and Ettian never could, adding realism to this story from space. Gal and Ettian prioritize each other, but they can’t be everything to each other. Wen’s character is a delight, a firecracker who’s consistently-written and never patronized by the story.
Reviewers on Goodreads have noted the story’s similarities to an alternate universe fanfic of Finn and Poe Dameron from the Star Wars reboot. It’s true that in the best possible way, Bonds of Brass is a book that will feel familiar to lovers of fan-fiction. Not only for the fact that it makes use of some well-love tropes – bed-sharing is a staple, as well as some much-appreciated friends-to-lovers and oh my god, they were roommates – but more than that, it’s the tone and flavor of the whole book that feels fan-fiction-esque.
The story is character-driven, with a lot of the description dedicated to Ettian’s thought processes. His character is torn two ways throughout the book. It’s his choices in among all the conflict that shape the narrative, so as a reader I found myself hugely invested in what choices he would make. In a setting as wide as space, it’s a feat of writing to be able to make the decisions of one person feel as though they matter so much.
Bonds of Brass cares about the emotions of its characters, and is fascinated by the interplay between them. While the action in the book keeps them moving, nothing that happens is completely glossed over; the main characters talk to each other, learn about each other, and obviously care about each other.
In fan fiction, a fairly common trope is the ‘expected twist’ – the twist that the reader sees coming, because of their knowledge of canon and how the fanfic is paralleling it. Bonds of Brass handles its twist similarly. It doesn’t go to a great effort to mask the endgame of the story – rather, it allows the reader to enjoy realizing what’s going to have to happen, and wondering how it’s going to play out. Rather than trying to one-up the reader, the story invites them in.
The focus on feelings and relationships in the book does occasionally come at the cost of some more detailed visual description. While the inner world of Ettian is sharp and consistent, the world of the galaxy itself sometimes feels a little grey in comparison. I found myself struggling to picture the features of different characters, and most of my understanding of Ettian and Gal’s looks came from the beautifully-drawn cover art.
The lack of detail does keep the story moving quickly, and nothing ever feels overworked – but I could have easily enjoyed another five to ten thousand words in the story, explaining the atmosphere of the different planets in more detail and building a stronger sense of visual identity for each character.
Bonds of Brass is the first installment in the Bloodright trilogy. I’m already eager for more! If you’re exhausting your to-be-read list during lockdown, you can always check out our recommendations for things to read here at The Geekiary.
Author: Em Rowntree
I’m a non-binary writer, teacher, and cat-lover from the UK.
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