Sean Grigsby’s Daughters of Forgotten Light uses a ’70s movie sensibility for the story of a women’s prison in SPAAACE and the story of their struggle to survive and escape their fate.
On a distant planet reached by a wormhole, a colony has been turned into one for unsocial women. Unsocial men are easy to handle—put them into the army and have them fight for the dwindling resources and living space on a world that has tipped decisively into a rapid onset Ice Age. But unsocial women? Well, they aren’t suitable for the army, or so the United Continent of North America thinks, and so to reduce the excess population of such undesirables, they are sent off to the colony. Every so often, food ships send food to the colony.
Otherwise, no one knows what is going on there on Oubliette and given how the ice is advancing, not many people care. Senator Dolfuse cares, for very personal reasons, and drives to find out the secrets of the prison colony from her power base on Earth, finding that some very powerful interests indeed are running Oubliette, with agendas of their own.
But it is on Oubliette that the novel sings. There are two classes of people, the ordinary, mundane “dwellers” and then the gangs. The gangs are a diverse lot, with different themes, outfits and outlooks on life. Each rules a territory of their own in which the mundane dwellers live, and there has been a truce between the gangs.
Luckily with their hoverbike Cyclones and their plasma ball Rang weapons, when the truce is broken, the gangs can get down to business of fighting each other and outdoing each other.
In other words, if you took the movie The Warriors**, fused it with Escape from New York and set it in Space on an alien planet with futuristic tech, and all women characters, you pretty much have the world setup of Daughters of Forgotten Light.
Lena “Horror” Horowitz is the leader of the eponymous Daughters of Forgotten Light, and we see much of the novel from her point of view. When the latest shipment from Earth not only contains food, and new prisoners, but oddly, a real life baby, she is spurred to break that fragile truce and set in motion a series of events to change the prison planet, and Earth, forever.
The other major point of view besides Lena and Senator Dolfuse is Sarah Pao. She’s a new shippee to the planet, and in the scrum of the gangs deciding who gets what out of the new container ship, she is ultimately selected by the Daughters. So she serves as our character to introduce us to how the planet works, how the gang works, who they are to themselves and to each other and provide a sympathetic point of view for readers. Lena and the other gang members are hard-bitten women who have survived a lot and do not show a lot of softer edges, ever. Sarah, being new, shows a vulnerability and freshness that provides a contrast to her counterparts. She is not a helpless naif, however. In addition, she undergoes a pressure-cooker change and character growth.
Also well done is the rest of Lena’s gang. They are a motley, diverse and well thought out assortment of gang members, far from the cookie cutter clones that one might expect. Grigsby does a good job in delineating their personalities and quirks and showing how they all fit together in the gang.
The action beats, though as mentioned above, are far and away the best part of the novel. The return-shot Rang guns are an excellent piece of invention, and I would definitely like some sort of first person shooter to have such a weapon in their games. Combine this with future hover bikes and when the author pulls out a set piece action event, the novel hits its highest and best points.
There are a few elements that don’t quite jell beyond the core concept, though, and this is squarely in the on-Earth elements. While the Senator’s plotline is necessary and important for balance versus things happening on Oubliette, the character and the plot and the revelations there are nowhere near as crisp or well executed as the action and adventure in Oubliette. It feels much more pedestrian and plodding, and I found myself each and every time hoping for a quick return to Lena and events on Oubliette, and away from Senator Dolfuse.
Although that’s flawed, the action sequences, aesthetic and raw fun and action of events on the prison planet meant that Daughters of Forgotten Light was entertaining and a quick and fun read. If you are looking for high octane action and adventure with a cast of women characters, in Spaace, Daughters of Forgotten Light is for you.
**There is even a shout out to the most famous line in the movie, which was clearly an influence on the book.