Content notes for Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Relentless Moon: disordered eating, anxiety, trauma, grief, death, suicidal thoughts, infertility, pandemic, sexism, racism
- There are a lot of heavy topics in the Lady Astronaut novels and the protagonists deal with them in different ways, often have deep trauma and not all of their coping mechanisms are healthy – this novel features anorexia and descriptions of anxiety
- Because of sabotage the moon colony faces a polio outbreak, which essentially means death for any who contract it
- The novel also deals with grief and loss of different kinds and how to handle them
- As with the previous two novels, sexism and racism feature heavily in the politics of the IAC
Representation: a variety of important Black side characters and side characters of colour
After the first two novels in Mary Robinette Kowal’s Lady Astronaut series centred on the titular lady astronaut Elma York, the third book features her friend and fellow astronaut Nicole Wargin as protagonist while Elma is on a three year mission to Mars. Nicole is trying to balance the demands of her own career as an astronaut with her role as the wife of a politician running for president. And while the IAC is trying to side-line her because, at over 50 years old, they consider her too old to be a woman in space, and she is trying to prove her worth and value as an astronaut, her husband needs a suitable first lady and even though he supports her career, the two things are not that compatible and putting an intense strain on her. Add to that the sabotage of Earth First, a violent group that opposes the idea of space colonialization, and suddenly there is more on the line than ever before.
I have to admit that I did not connect as much with Nicole as I did with Elma. But then again that is somewhat the point of her character. Like Elma Nicole comes from a very privileged background but still has to deal with so much trauma and in her this resulted, among other things, in her compartmentalizing so much that she doesn’t let anyone get close to her, ever. And this in some ways applies to the reader as well, even though we spent the entirety of the story inside her head. On the one hand, this means there is always this kind of barrier that keeps you from really connecting with the character but on the other hand, it really underlines how she deals with everything that has been happening to her in the last 50 years.
To be honest, despite not fully connecting with Nicole, I enjoyed The Relentless Moon a bit more than The Fated Sky – though not quite as much as The Calculating Stars. It is intense, delving deeper into not only the political landscape of this alternate history US but also the technical sides of the moon colony while also essentially being a spy/murder mystery with Nicole trying to get ahead of the sabotage attempts that threaten the colonists and the entire space program. There are so many layers to the struggles faced by the lady astronauts and Mary Robinette Kowal does such a stellar job in bringing across the urgency and intensity of the situation (and adding a whole lot of parallels to very current real world issues) while never losing that hopeful note.
I also very much enjoyed the relationship dynamics we get to see in The Relentless Moon, between Nicole and the other people on the colony but especially those of the married couples – while Elma doesn’t feature prominently in this novel, we get a look at her husband Nathaniel from a different perspective, and obviously Nicole’s own husband Kenneth plays an integral role in the protagonist’s life and thus the story. Also, the Lindholm’s, Myrtle and Eugene, are now settled firmly on the moon and are integral to the going-ons there.
All in all, The Relentless Moon was another stunning novel by Mary Robinette Kowal, an amazing addition to her Lady Astronaut series and just overall a great book. The story is intense and relevant, with amazing characters whose struggles, losses and wins feel so very realistic and relatable even when I couldn’t fully connect to the protagonist. And as always it is obviously that a lot of careful research went into the technological problems, historically appropriate politics and such. I am already eagerly awaiting The Martian Contingency, which will once more feature Elma and centre around the establishing of the new Mars colony.
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