Foodies in Spaaaaaaaccceeee! You Sexy Thing by Cat Rambo is a fun space opera with a culinary twist that is layered like marbled rye bread with swirls of sweet, lighter moments wound around dark, heavier themes.
Niko Larson, once a free-trader, lost everything, including her lover Petalia, to pirates long ago. Joining the Holy Hive Mind’s Grand Military was her only recourse. Eventually, the infamous former Admiral and her diverse crew discovered a loophole enabling them to escape their military service and open a restaurant. The Last Chance on the remote TwiceFar space station will hopefully garner enough money to secure a ship and finally attempt a rescue.
The restaurant will soon be visited by the illustrious food critic Lolola Montaigne d’Arey deBurgh who, if they play their hors d’oeuvres right, will grant them the prestigious Nikkelin Orb rating cementing them as a top culinary destination. With the menu decided, and coveted eggplant procured, the crew are ready to wow the tastebuds of the discerning critic. But the arrival of a strange package, a last minute reservation by an Admiral with a large entourage, and an unexpected visit by the rich socialite Arpat Takraven threaten to ruin their meticulous preparations.
And the chaos only gets worse as before dinner is served, a massive explosion rocks the space station. Fleeing for their lives, Niko and her crew join Arpat and Lolola racing toward his very fancy and very sentient Bio-ship, You Sexy Thing. Unfortunately, Arpat is mortally wounded on the way and the ship, convinced it is being stolen, has set them on a course to Scourse, where they will be arrested as thieves. Certain they will be absolved, and deciding to make the best of the journey, the crew spend the trip bonding with each other and with the ship, who is more than a little intrigued by the idea of cooking.
Until the ship really is stolen and they find themselves en route to the dreaded IAPH (Intergalactic Association of Pirate Havens) under the ruthless and vile rule of Tubal Last. Niko’s past comes crashing into the present as she and her crew jump out the frying pan and into the fire. Circumstances have accelerated the rescue she has been planning for years but against an adversary as nefarious as Tubal Last, they must be careful not to be burned.
Pros And My Favourite Parts
The world building is interesting though it is not the focus of the book and we are given only a glimpse of its scope and key players (I expect we will learn more as the series progresses). The best part for me is the characterization.
Found family is one of my favourite tropes in space operas. I love seeing disparate characters bond and Rambo serves up an intergalactic smorgasbord of delectable characters in this book. Niko is the older, gruff but heart-of-gold leader (another favourite trope of mine) and Dabry her second in command, is a four-armed chef who is as skilled and reliable on the battlefield as he is in the kitchen. Rounding out the crew (or staff) is an avian-esque pastry chef, magically altered, twin teenage were-lion bus-boys, a simian-like quartermaster who speaks sign language, a doom and gloom mystic reptilian maître d’, and my personal favourite, an adorable, and very tactile, squid-like being with touchy tentacles and a taste for snuggling. Oh and of course the titular sentient bio-ship exploring itself and its purpose (more trope love here) through its interactions with the crew is a treat. The way they bond over cooking is, *chef’s kiss*.
Cons And Heads Up
As fun as much of this book is at times, there are some darker components that include psychological and physical torture, genocide, and gruesome death. Normally I don’t mind dark but in this case, I found it jarring in its contrast with the whimsy of the rest of the book. Unexpectedly popping up midway through the story, these dark aspects are difficult to digest. The relationship between Niko and Petalia is complex and we are only privy to memories of its past beauty. The present leaves little room for love and while their feelings are entirely justified, the result sat heavy in my stomach. That and another incident left a bit of a bad aftertaste, but the spoonfuls of sugar definitely helped the bitterness go down, even though we don’t end with an HEA.
Rambo has cooked up a delicious, trope-filled space opera with a charismatic cast to whet your appetite and I eagerly await the next course.
Excerpt from You Sexy Thing by Cat Rambo
She found her second-in-command waiting in her office. He silently handed her a sheet of plastic. Looking it over, she raised an eyebrow.
“Eggplant?” She said incredulously. “Where am I going to get eggplant, short of you finding some cut-rate sorcerer? None of the big farm ships grow it, except for the Mannan, and their prices are twice anyone else’s.”
She frowned at Dabry in the office’s dim light. Niko was of indeterminate human mix, with pale brown skin and graying dreadlocks swept back and contained on the back of her head with an ivory beaded net. Muscular shoulders rounded out her white chef’s jacket, its front unpinned and fallen awry, bearing coffee stains along one sleeve.
Although Niko was tall, the being also wearing a chef’s jacket (although significantly less crumpled and stained), hulking across from where she sat and the tiny desk, dwarfed her. He was an Ettilite, an eight-foot-tall humanoid with four arms and skin the color of the eggplant they had been discussing.
Dabry, a.k.a. Sergeant Dabry, also retired from the ranks of the Holy Hive Mind, folded both pairs of arms and stared at her impassively. “The critic,” he rumbled, “is said to have a weakness for old Earth food from its Mediterranean region. I need to analyze the components if I’m going to replicate it.”
“You are all way too concerned about this critic,” Niko said. “Ever since Skidoo found out that who booked the reservation, you have been ridiculous! Cleaning—which I do approve of. Redecorating—which I approve of up to a certain budgetary point. But now—rearranging the menu just for them?”
“They have the power to give our restaurant a Nikkelin Orb,” Dabry said with a tone that implied that once a restaurant had achieved such a thing, everyone in it might go ahead and die happily, their life goals attained. They had been operating the Last Chance for a little over a solar year now, and Dabry tracked its few reviews and mentions with a gleeful zeal.
“This restaurant,” Niko said, not for the first time, “was not my idea.”
“This restaurant,” Dabry said, also not for the first time, “got us all out of the Holy Hive Mind’s service and let us keep what we could of the company together while we try to build our finances.”
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Bits and Bobs
ISBN number: 9781250269300
Publisher: Tor Books
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