Family life can be tough. Sibling rivalries, parental scrutiny and personal boundaries can sometimes make it hard to remember that you love one another. It’s even more difficult when your mother is an intergalactic smuggler with a frigid demeanor, your brother is enlisted in a far-away war, your younger siblings love nothing more than a good gunfight, and you’re an alcoholic. Yep, Kristyn Merbeth puts a lot of pressure on Scorpia Kaiser and her family. But with a few huge risks, some real bravery and quite a bit of cursing, things might turn out okay for the crew of the Fortuna.
Long after humans left Earth, they settled across a small group of hospitable planets in a far-off sector of space. Each one of these planets developed differently and, despite an alliance, isolated themselves from one another. The only way to gain access to each planet is to be born there. Momma Kaiser, an enterprising individual, adopted a child from each planet so that she could smuggle freely across the galaxy. It’s about as rag-tag a group as you can imagine, but they work together to make a life running contraband. When the family finds itself in the middle of an intergalactic massacre because of cargo they delivered, the two eldest Kaisers, Scorpia and Corvus, must put aside years of differences to figure out how to keep the family safe from a universe certain to track them down.
Fortuna spends time in the separate POVs of Scorpia and Corvus, a storytelling choice that superbly elevates the narrative. Brother and sister have completely different voices, so it’s easy to appreciate how different they are. Scorpia’s casual, devil-may-care style contrasts beautifully with Corvus’ rigidity, economy and self-loathing. The reader finds real sympathy for each of them, which blurs the line between who is right and who is wrong. Merbeth shows herself to be adept with dialogue and character building with all of the Kaisers, and some of the funniest and most powerful moments happen when the family is trading jabs or bickering. It gives the whole story a warm, lived-in feeling. But this book is also full of action, and the pace shifts very naturally between intimate conversations and breakneck space adventure.
Though I found myself loving the different origin accounts of Scorpia and Corvus, I wanted them to collide sooner in the narrative. When their paths do converge, the main conflict really starts cranking. Perhaps that’s the best compliment that could be paid here: No matter what’s happening outside the hull of Fortuna, family is always strongest when everyone is together.