THE RELENTLESS MOON by Mary Robinette Kowal. Review.

THE RELENTLESS MOON by Mary Robinette Kowal.

Solaris. ebook. £5.99.

Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.

1963, Kansas City. The day of the Mars launch will put The Lady Astronaut, Elma, into space once again leaving her husband, Nathaniel, behind to anxiously wait for news. While the world watches them, it seems Nicole Wargin will always be playing second fiddle to Elma. Also a former WASP then Astronaut, amongst other things, Nicole will never be the Lady Astronaut and has to be content with the here and now of Kansas City and being the wife of Governor Wargin. At least her husband knows and cherishes her many talents if no one else seems to.

As the earth continues its death march, the Mars expedition takes the next step in the IAC’s plan to relocate humanity. It is launch time. Nicole watches, hosting a society gathering with all the finesse expected of her, but when the first telltale signs of an explosion become clear, her astronaut instincts kick in. Unfortunately for Nicole, there is nothing she can do this time save to allow the security team to guide her, the governor and their guests to safety.

An explosion during a rocket launch is never going to be good, but this one was engineered. A violent protest against space colonisation is in play—the who and why is not yet known. The IAC will be investigating, and Nicole wants to be there. Needs to be there. To find out. To help. Instead, she has to lock so much of herself inside and put her efforts into preparing her husband to talk to the press and support Nathaniel in Elma’s absence. This is her job now and, like everything she does, she will do it well.

While Elma continues her journey to Mars, the new protagonist, Nicole, carries the narrative in The Relentless Moon. Nicole is no stranger to putting on a public face and making the sacrifices that need to be made. As a character, she is just as endearing and admirable as Elma and takes over the point of view role seamlessly. Her intelligence, kindness, dignity and strength shine through all the way to the end of a story that sees her navigating relationships, sabotage, politics and space travel.

Like the previous Lady Astronaut books, an alternate history is written which simultaneously outlines the stark prejudices that were rife during the real history of space travel and woman’s role in it, as well as exploring and challenging social attitudes and issues that resonate today. Through Nicole’s story in particular, Kowal exposes the topic of mental health. With a skilled hand, Nicole’s coping mechanisms are slowly revealed, and we live the consequences of them with her as the narrative unfolds.

Having a new main character does give The Relentless Moon a different feel to the previous books, but there are no disappointments to be found here. There are twists and shocks aplenty to keep the pages turning, and the focus is able to narrow much more to pick apart relationships and motives – we have a whodunit with the added challenges of being in space.