Read an ARC from the publisher
Content warning: gore, partner abuse, self-surgery, gun violence, death
A small fraction of a band of mercenaries called the Dirty Dozen get together for one last job which will hopefully bring closure to the disaster which tore the group apart several years ago. Rita leads, but it’s unclear if she can be trusted. Maya wants to, though everyone else seems to disagree. Meanwhile, an AI searches for the same planet and an epic clash is on the horizon.
Aesthetically and thematically science fictional with profane prose that pulls and prods the feelings, Cassandra Khaw’s debut novel is a queer treat.
I’m going to start this review with: if you do not like the “fuck” word, this will not be an enjoyable reading experience for you. This is especially prevalent in Maya’s POV sections. She’s angry, she’s grieving, she’s functionally immortal. Like a feral cat, you want to simultaneously take care of her and hope she gets her shit together. The prose is raw, varied, and hits on a level that suits the visceral details of the passage between death and life, the cyclical nature of these heavily-modified mercenaries’ existence.
Rita serves as a kind of antagonist. Though she presents the impetus for the gang getting back together, she sucks on such a thorough level. What is heart-breaking throughout is how no one can open Maya’s eyes to it. In addition to this compelling depiction of the dissolution of an abusive relationship, the way Khaw muses on immortality, aging, and maturity really resonated with me. There is one chapter where Maya meets with the partner of a former member of the Dirty Dozen, and there is a melancholic beauty to the finite years the two spent together. It works so well in contrast to the science fictional awesomeness that is the future tech. It’s thoughtful and a layer I wasn’t expecting given the other facets of the plot.
Come for the swearing mercenaries, big sequences, and slick sci-fi, stay for the feelings.