Paradise 21 by Aubrie Dionne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Paradise 21 is a fast-paced, energetic ride through a space opera universe populated by generation ships, space pirates and exotic, hostile planets. The cast is sizable but never unmanageable, with some intriguing personalities and character quirks. The action scenes are particularly enjoyable: the author has a way of writing that makes you want to read faster, a gripping anxiety for the characters.
I do consider this space opera, not science fiction – though the events and places in Paradise 21 didn’t strike me as scientifically sound, the novel created a mood where that didn’t matter. The Star Wars comparison made by other reviewers is apt: you know the creatures and gadgets might be nonsense, but you’re having too much fun to care. There were a handful of places where my suspension of disbelief still got twinged, though.
Another thing to praise was the portrayal of space pirate Tiff. The way she teeters back and forth between self-absorption and a developing selflessness was very satisfying. I was less sure about Barliss. I enjoyed his maniacal calculation, the way he knew to play the social game but had no actual empathy – but I found he came off too cruel / evil to be wholly believable.
The romance did, at times, feel a bit forced – and there were a few moments where I wondered about the appropriateness of Aries’ line of thought. (When survival is on the line, this is not the moment to notice your companion’s handsomeness.) Similarly, I thought some of the dialogue was unnatural – characters explaining too much, too clearly, asking questions that seemed implausible to pose to a stranger just met.
That said, there’s moments of beauty in the book, and ultimately, an optimism that was heartening to encounter. It’s definitely a fun read.
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