My thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for an advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

In a dystopian future, most of humanity has fled a ravaged Earth, with only a small lawless number remaining who worship the planet as ‘Gaia’, and think that anything technological or from space is heresy. Into this world, an escape pod crashes. Its lone occupant must travel across a hostile world to find her ship – and the woman she loves. 

This was a hugely enjoyable read for me. It’s fast-paced and easy to digest, uplifting, and also has some interesting features stylistically.

The structure of the novel was one such feature. The protagonist meets various characters along her journey almost in the way of a fairy-tale quest. Many of them are point of view characters, both the good and the bad, which is an excellent way of giving depth to the world in a small amount of time. We meet, for example, the son of a preacher of Gaia, who is party to what appears to be a cult-like deception in a religious town; an uppity and unsociable – but very clever – seamstress, who witnesses a murder; and a rather lovable thief. 

In each point of view, the protagonist is called something different – ‘the Stranger’, ‘the Courier’, or ‘Darling’ – as she fits herself into whatever story she finds herself in, and it’s only later in the book that we get a little more of her backstory and she solidifies into a named character. For a while, it’s almost like a series of short stories, the protagonist weaving them together into a whole.

The tone of the novel is also interesting. There are some stories and scenes of absolute whimsy and childish delight – a tortoise plays an important part, and there are the strange musical people who live in the guts of a huge crashed spaceship. But then there’s an element of grit. It is, after all, an Earth ravaged by climate disaster, where society is lawless, and sometimes cruel. Not all of the point of view characters to whom we are so lovingly introduced have happy endings. Ultimately though, I’d say it gravitates towards hopefulness. I’ve seen this book compared to Becky Chambers’ Wayfarer novels, and I absolutely get the comparison, in that it somehow lifts your heart despite its rather desolate and at times cruel setting. 

If I had a very small quibble, it would be that the pace is so fast and the writing so efficient that at times I felt momentarily wrong-footed – for instance, a character is in a spaceship and then in an escape pod and I miss how the transition occurred – but this in no way detracted from my enjoyment of the story. I would also say that if you are after super complex or immersive characterisation, this is not so much what this novel is going for – but honestly does that matter? What this novel sets out to do, it does superbly.

At its heart, this is a lovable, queer, romantic spaceship-western… (what’s not to love?) It breezed past me in its delight of vignettes, and the characters were endearing and efficiently drawn. I would absolutely recommend this for anyone who wants a pacy, imaginative and uplifting read. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Frontier comes out on 9 March 2023.