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500 years in the future Koko Marstellar, a former corporate mercenary, is living the easy life after retiring early to run a brothel on The Sixty Islands, a man made tropical resort known for specialising in sex and simulated violence. Koko’s easy life becomes distinctly less easy when Portia Delacompte, an old comrade, sends a squad of security personnel to kill her.

Kieran Shea’s Cyberpunk inspired sucker punch of a story is precise and honed to a fine point, it doesn’t get bogged down in endless exposition setting up the world of the future but rather introduces elements slowly in a drip feed as the action unfolds with things like Tiger Fighting, Depressus and more being  introduced.

It’s always refreshing to discover a new great character regardless of the medium if that character is a feisty kickass woman it’s all the better. There’s plenty of talk about how there’s a distinct lack of “strong female characters” around, I hate that phrase it’s reductivist in the extreme, after all there’s no such thing as a “strong male character”. Koko is far more multi-layered than whatever “strong” implies, she’s a more than capable fighter but she’s also intelligent and witty and numerous other things besides and also looks utterly badass too, with artist Joey Hi-fi running with Shea’s description for the sublime cover .

Whilst Koko finds herself on the run from her former home and business the story also features the other perspective of the events, from Portia Delacompte’s end. Shea gains plenty of mileage from the ridiculous, callous and bureaucratic nature of corporations which is merely exaggerated to blackly comical effect here, with Delacompte having to deal with a board of directors who call her actions into account at every turn with Delacompte venting her fury on a well meaning but inept assistant who has hired the operatives that have been assigned to take out Koko. An interesting rather Phillip K Dick touch is she can’t remember why she has ordered the death of her former comrade after undergoing a selective memory treatment and this becomes a major part of the unfolding story.

Another key character is Jedediah Flynn a security officer aboard the Alaungpaya, one of a number of vast ships that are home to hundreds of people in low orbit above the Earth, akin to floating cities. Flynn gets entangled in Koko’s story after finding out he’s been diagnosed with an altitude derived mental affliction named Depressus which is widely considered to be terminal and often prompts sufferers to take their own lives, usually by leaping to their deaths, this has become such a problem on Alaungpaya that official ceremonies dubbed “Embrace” ceremonies enable mass group suicides.

These three characters stories coalesce in impressive style as Shea’s narrative unfolds with various character touches along the way, like Flynn going through his life on autopilot until he blunders into Koko’s life and Koko learning that even a badass former mercenary and hired gun occasionally needs help sometimes.

One of the most interesting aspects though is the gender balance which is completely flipped in comparison to the general norm, Flynn, Delacompte’s assistant and a nefarious arms dealer that Koko knows from back in the day are the only male characters here, the rest are female. There’s something refreshing and a little subversive about a story that pits a cadre of female mercenary’s against a former female mercenary who is now a madame for a brothel of boywhores.

Great characters, a frenetic pace, action and some twisted humour make this one to look out for and what is surprising is this is Shea’s first novel.

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