Adult · Book review · Sci-fi

Review: The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley

40523931I feel like I’m back to a Too Like the Lightning situation: The Light Brigade is just as unreadable as it is clever. But finished it, and I have feelings, so it must mean something. How do I even rate something like this?

The way I rated Too Like the Lightning, I guess.

My first reaction, when I finished this, was “I want to lie down somewhere and look at the stars”. Which, one could think, is an odd thing to take away from one of the bleakest, most depressing books I have ever read – something I actively hated reading.
But the ending was… I don’t know if I can even describe what worked exactly about the ending. It’s something you have to experience for yourself.
And I think that it takes skill to write a book as bleak as The Light Brigade that still manages to make the reader feel something in the end that isn’t completely negative. Most SFF books about the horrors of war don’t do that (and I dislike them for it. I don’t know, I’m stressed and sad enough as is, and if I want more, I have real stories to draw from).

But I think it’s also fair to say that a book isn’t only its ending, and someone might want to know if reading 300+ pages of pure ugly is worth those last few chapters. For me…. it was, mostly.
There was nothing to keep me reading this book. Nothing apart from the fact that Kameron Hurley wrote one of my favorite books – and, to quote The Light Brigade, this probably also had an influence:

[…] there’s this thing called escalation of commitment. That once people have invested a certain amount of time in a project, they won’t quit, even if it’s no longer a good deal.

Anyway. I’m glad it worked in my favor, I’m glad this isn’t the first book I’ve read by Kameron Hurley, and I’m glad this made me trust her enough to finish The Light Brigade.

This is a novel set in a future in which corporations own everything, from infrastructures to healthcare to the people themselves and their access to information. And they’re in a war with the humans who settled on Mars, because the Martians are evil. Supposedly.
The worldbuilding here was… solid, for the most part. I had no idea how anything or anyone looked like, but if you look for novels in which the worldbuilding is focused on the themes and low on the details, The Light Brigade is exactly that. So much that one might even criticize it for lack of subtlety in its discussions on the role of war, the meaning of freedom and heroism, and its criticism of capitalism, but sometimes that’s necessary. Not because readers won’t get it, but because there was no way the main character wouldn’t react strongly in situations like these.

All of Kameron Hurley’s books end up doing interesting things with gender. God’s War had a woman in a stereotypically male role, The Stars Are Legion had an all-lesbian cast, and The Light Brigade has a main character who narrates the book in first person whose gender isn’t explicitly stated until the ending. Which makes sense, because why would it matter, in a book about a sci-fi war? But Dietz is also explicitly bi/pan, and while that doesn’t “matter” either – Dietz just is attracted to people of different genders – I really appreciated it.
Also, I think Dietz is afrolatinx too (lives in São Paulo and is of Ivorian descent).

The Light Brigade is also a very confusing read. It’s a story about a character who starts experiencing time jumps because of an unusual reaction to sci-fi technology. Which means that Dietz doesn’t experience time the way other characters do, and this story is very difficult to follow – there are still some details that are lost on me – but the way it adds distance between the tragedies and the main character oddly made it easier to read? It also meant that there was a lot of distance between the main character and all the side characters, and if you’re the kind of person who reads books for the interactions between characters, this is something to keep in mind. But I didn’t have a problem with the “all the side characters kind of blur together” thing, as I imagine that’s how it would feel to be around so many people who die.

I (mostly) hated reading this, and continued just because writing and pacing were great and because I trusted the author, but it also made me think about a lot of things, which I guess was the point. I don’t want to penalize a book for what it meant to do. Also, if a book has so many things I don’t like reading about in it – dystopian worlds, time travel, a lot of meaningless-feeling death – and still works for me?
It means it’s really good.

My rating: ★★★★

11 thoughts on “Review: The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley

  1. Great review, I don’t think I’ve ever seen 4 stars and “I mostly hated reading this” in the same review! My one and only Hurley book (The Mirror Empire) didn’t work out that well, I just don’t think she’s for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! It’s the kind of book that I don’t like while reading, but the more I think about it, the more I like it? Four stars make sense to me in these cases.
      I haven’t read The Mirror Empire and I don’t know if I will, of all the things she wrote this is the only one I constantly hear mixed-to-bad things about.


    1. I have learned to avoid any WW2-inspired books exactly for this reason, so maybe we have very different meters for this? I know I can deal with violence but I shouldn’t read something that is depressing/hopeless for a significant amount of pages, and this was the limit for me. Anyway, I hope it works for you if you try it!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t read these books, so I can’t say – this specific kind of sci-fi isn’t something I often reach for – but I definitely agree about it being honest and thought-provoking; it’s been months, and I still think about it often.

      Liked by 1 person

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