Book Review: Windswept by Adam Rakunas
Padma Mehta used to work for The Man. That is, WalWa, one of the Big Three megacorporations that own most of Occupied Space. She was good at her job, too, despite the shabby treatment she often got. Then Bad Things happened, and Padma Breached, breaking her indenture contract to join the Union on Santee.
Now Padma’s a Ward Head for the Union in Brushhead, one of the neighborhoods in Santee Landing. But now she has other plans–the owner of the distillery that makes Padma’s favorite rum “Old Windswept” is retiring, and Padma wants to buy that distillery to make sure the sanity-restoring drink remains made just the right way. But to do that, Padma must fill job Slots for the Union, and that means finding new Breaches to take those Slots. When a mining ship disaster kills the discontented workers she was counting on, Padma is forced to accept a deal with small time con artist Vytai Bloombeck, who knows where some other Breaches are coming to the planet.
Except, of course, that there are five Breaches (six if you count the corpse), not forty, and rival ward head Evanrute Saarien is determined to steal even those to add to his own credit with the Union. And things just continue to go downhill from there, with disgruntled Union workers, corporate assassins and a deadly cane blight all making Padma’s life even more awful than she perhaps deserves. The only people that might be on Padma’s side are rogue cab driver Jilly and recently Breached lawyer Banks, and that might just be because they don’t know her well enough.
This science fiction novel is set in a future that’s not the worst possible outcome, but is full of broken systems. Yes, being a corporate Indenture means that you get many benefits, like the “pai” (never actually explained but probably short for “personal assistant implant”) hooked up to your optic nerve to allow wireless communication among other neat features. But the Big Three tend to cheap out on the actual quality of the benefits, and every upgrade comes with more time on your indenture.
The Union is no bed of roses either; there’s a bunch of low-level job Slots that need filling, and rookies go straight into things like sewer cleaning and hull scraping, regardless of actual skill set. Getting into better Slots takes the ability to convince the Union you’re worthy, and new Breaches coming in to take the lowest Slots. (Bloombeck’s been stuck in the sewers for decades because no one likes him enough to find him a better Slot.)
Padma has a lot of flaws, some of which are related to the mental illness that she got during her service to WalWa. Old Windswept is the only effective treatment she’s found for The Fear, so that’s her top priority. Unfortunately, Santee has fallen off the main trade routes, so fewer ships are coming for the cane, molasses and galaxy’s best rum, and thus fewer Breaches to feed her kitty and let her workers rise in the ranks. As a result of her worries about this, Padma has not kept her ear to the ground about various developing situations around the colony, and that comes back to bite her repeatedly.
Something else that bites Padma is her habit of assuming people she meets have always been what they are when she meets them. More than one person has a secret past that has bearing on current events. Other people turn out to be exactly what Padma thinks they are, which may be worse.
Once the ball gets rolling, it’s pretty much non-stop peril for Padma and her crew, only getting breathing space to set up more peril. There’s a fair amount of violence, but more disturbing in its implications than graphic.
There’s no romance subplot, but Padma does have plot-relevant casual sex towards the beginning of the story. Perhaps the happiest part of the ending is that Padma’s a better person than she was before everything happened, even if she didn’t exactly get what she wanted.
Other characters develop depth of personality only by what Padma sees them do, as makes sense in a first-person narrative. Banks is far more complex than he initially seems, while Jilly is young and rather callow, but learning fast. Other characters…well, that’d be spoilers.
At least one scene is designed to be in the potential movie version, as lampshaded by the characters in it talking about the movies they’ve seen and whether this is actually something that could happen in real life.
I enjoyed the book and the characters–it’s not often a battle-scarred, middle-aged woman of South Asian descent is the protagonist in an action novel. (However, the treatment of her mental illness may not be fully accurate; I am not qualified to tell.)
Recommended to fans of science fiction action, and rum drinkers.