We Have Met the Enemy by Felicia Watson
If I haven't received a review request and a digital copy from the author, I wouldn't have come across this book. For which the author has respectively my thanks, and my apologies.
It is described as a space opera, and the blurb reads:
"In the 31st century, Naiche Decker joined the Unititerrae military seeking revenge for the death of her mother in battle against the Eternals. After being assigned to a deep space mission to root out the enemy's home world, she finds so much more, questioning if revenge was what she really sought in the first place."
I was trying to remember if I ever come across a book with such a varied character representation. Naiche Decker, the main protagonist, is Chiricahua (I'm delighted to see the inclusion of First Nations!) and, even in the 31st century, carries a multi-generational trauma of her heritage. She also holds the weight of comparisons with her late mother, who was a highly regarded officer in the fleet.
The other characters are diverse, both in terms of their backgrounds, portrayed by names and anecdotes from their personal life, but also in terms of their relationships. Inclusion of LGBTQ themes is brilliant - I'm pleased to see that sexuality is not a defining trait for characters, but instead is one of many of their characteristics. The author made sure to include platonic male/female relationships and female/female friendships. The complexity of characters is also emphasised by the themes of loyalty, sacrifice, family reconciliation, and many more.
The main plot revolves around the ongoing war with the Eternals and is a fitting backdrop for personal journeys of growth and revenge. In the beginning, we meet Naiche as an insubordinate rebel, who often gets into trouble (how did she manage not to get court-martialled is a mystery to me). As events unfold, she shows us her private side, full of pain and determination.
I do think, however, that the end feels a bit rushed and too neat. Almost as if years of personal injury and the war scars we healing so quickly. Furthermore, on a few occasions, I had a feeling that several important events were cut away from at pivotal moments, which significantly lessened the tension.
Having said that, the author does not shy away from complicated political themes. The profile of the crew allows for the exploration of conflicts of priorities between the military and scientists. Decker's Chricauha heritage leads to tensions with white crew members and brings back the treatment of indigenous people. There is also an aspect of how the Eternals treat humanity.
The story starts relatively slow, but the action picks up shortly after, setting the tone the rest of the book.
Die-hard fans of the genre may be slightly disappointed, however. The sci-fi elements were not as strong as I was hoping for them to be, despite some very skilled moments in the book. The main focus is on interpersonal relations and melodrama. Despite that, the writing is engaging, exciting, and thought-provoking.
A lovely touch that I adored was a title of each chapter, taken from a longer quote. These quotes range from Sun Tzu to Lillie Langtry, but every one of them appropriately relates to the events in the chapter and adds another layer of depth to the themes it's touching on.
While reading the book, I had a very familiar feeling, as if I was returning to a place I once knew. About a third of the book in, it finally dawned on me. Star Trek! When I was a small kid, I used to watch TNG with my dad. We Have Met the Enemy, to me, carries a strong resemblance to this show - the pace was not as fast as the most recent show. Still, it allowed for contemplation of the nature of humanity, personal journey, and exploration of both space and one's heart.
We Have Met the Enemy is such an exploration - fresh, touching, modern, and worthy of setting phasers to "read".