Can one woman evade an alien empire to save her son’s life?
Sitting here right after finishing Courage by Lauren H Salisbury, all I can say is Wow. This book intrigued me from the beginning, held my attention to the last page, and has me hooked so that I am now eagerly awaiting the release of the second book in the series, Conviction, which does not yet have a release date.
The protagonist is Gilla, a dedicated mother who faces incredible difficulties yet maintains a strong faith while managing to hold her family together. Gilla’s family, and all humans, are slaves on the planet U’du to the Esarelians. They are forced to do hard labor which only benefits the Esarelians, live in dismal conditions, and are constantly berated by any Esarelians they encounter. The Esarelians have many of the typical features ruling species in space-based fantasy possess; they can live longer than humans (due in part to their incredibly advanced technology), are stronger than humans, and come from a distant world which no longer exists. They are fearsome but not invincible. There are many more humans than Esarelians on U’du; it is predominantly the imbalance of technology that manages to keep humanity in its current position, but there are some working to change the status quo.
The plot is loosely based on the story of the Israelite Exodus, found in the Bible and Torah in the book of Exodus, transplanted to a fantastical setting. Salisbury does a wonderful job of taking a well-known narrative and making it into something new and unexpected. Despite being deeply familiar with the story of Exodus, I found myself reading hungrily to find out how Gilla’s story would play out.
Knowing what Salisbury based her story on is helpful to understanding the nuances and details of Courage, but not essential to enjoying the story for its own merit. You don’t have to know who any of the characters are beforehand or think you know what will happen to understand the underlying themes of freedom, justice, and faith. This is a story of one family chafing under and fighting against an unjust empire, even when the deck seems to be stacked against them, for the benefit of an entire nation. There is plenty of action, but also heart.
There were moments where it was difficult for me to see how Gilla’s religion affected her decisions and life as a whole. Sure, she stops to pray frequently, but there is no explanation of what she really believes, why she believes it, or what difference it has made in her life. In a book which draws strongly from actual religious texts for its inspiration, I expected more in this aspect. Perhaps this will be fleshed out later in the series.
Courage is an impressive blend of creativity and research. The world within is impressive for the fact that the reader can identify the ancient Egyptian empire in the Esarelians without invoking a cartoonish stereotype. Furthermore, Salisbury has taken an ancient text and converted the setting into one that is decidedly science fiction at its finest. Impressive technology, including varieties of space craft, are littered throughout. Like most fantasy or sci-fi books, the character and place names are just different enough from anything the reader would be familiar with to make them exotic, but not so much that they cannot be remembered or pronounced. Finally, there is an alternative history slipped in behind the action which is not always obvious, but gives added depth to the timeline.
If you are a fan of unique but not over-the-top fantasy, interested in fiction based on ancient Hebrew history, or simply looking for something out of the ordinary to read, then I highly recommend Courage by Lauren Salisbury, book 1 in The Legacy Chronicles series.
Disclaimer: I received a free ARC of Courage in exchange for an honest review. All opinions presented are my own.