By: Jonathan Nevair
Genre: LGBTQIA + Science Fiction
Publisher: Shadowspark Publishing
Content Warning: death of parent (mentioned), death of mentor, verbal abuse, graphic violence and death, blood, homelessness, trauma, guilt, kidnapping (mentioned)
WARNING: There will be spoilers for Goodbye to the Sun
THE STORY TO DATE: When I read Jonathan Nevair’s debut novel, Goodbye to the Sun, all I can say is that I was blown away. The book was brilliant and had so many layers beyond being great science fiction. The source material for the book was the Greek tragedy, Antigone. Keen Draden, a veteran of the Patent War on Heroon, has become an alcoholic diplomat, clearly suffering from PTSD. Razor, the Mote resistance fighter whose singular focus was to destroy Keen. Jati, a friend of Keen and veteran of the Patent War, have their own ship that transports goods and also supplies resistance fighters. They are in the Sagittarius (Sag) Arm of a galaxy. The ruling Garassian Council, of which Keen’s father heads, controls wind energy supplied to the Sag Arm. Planets are terraformed into desert wastelands to harness to solar wind. Poor planets on the fringe survive on what little energy and supplies they can. In short summary, at the end, Keen has a daughter who was betrayed and killed by the council. Believing Keen will divulge where the Mote resistance is located, Razor kills Keen. For killing him, Razor is arrested and sentenced to life in prison on Kol 2, her home planet. Jati is now the resistance leader of the People’s Army.
“But when Ailo appeared in the nav room on the Carmora, struggling against the ship’s engineers forceful grip, the chroniclers hand had slipped. The pen’s ink blotted over what would otherwise been a swift epilogue to a tragic yet successful narrative of triumphant justice.
Fates refrain was a reminder. Epochs die hard, and rarely do they go peacefully…” J. Nevair, Prologue, Jati’s Wager
I can’t even describe how brilliant this novel is. If I was blown away by Goodbye to the Sun, I was even more so by Jati’s Wager. Jati’s Wager picks up the story nine years after Keen Draden’s death. Gender fluidity is still an important and essential part of this novel, just as it was in the first. One must always ask how one identifies their gender, no matter who, and not to do so is considered extremely rude. It is identified by a suffix added to the end of their name. Inclusivity is very important in the genre, so this in itself was an amazing concept to include. Jati, who identifies as non-binary, now heads the People’s Army fighting the Tide War as a well-respected General. They have made great gains in taking back planets from the Garassian council and preventing terraforming.
Ailo (Ai), who we met briefly on the poor planet of Tarkassi 9, stows away on the Carmora to escape her bleak life there. Ailo is tough from scraping by on Tarkassi 9 and has no plans to stay on the Carmora. In a series of mishaps, she is severely hurt and brought to Ffossk, a People’s Army planet with the medical means to heal her. As she recovers, she grows fond of her doctor, Arira. The planet is like nothing Ai has ever seen, with geysers and beautiful flora and fauna. This is exactly what she was trying to escape too. Jati arrives and takes her on a picnic. He asks her questions that are ultimately to teach her about her freedom, the world around her, and what she wants in her life. Since we didn’t really get to know Jati very deeply in Goodbye to the Sun, we now see who they are. They are wise, kind, loyal, dedicated to the cause, and in many ways, an idealist, which is not necessarily a bad character trait. Jati is very respected as leader of the People’s Army because of all these traits, and what they have been able to accomplish for the people. While recovering, Ffossk is attacked and Arira is taken, and we find out that Arira is Jati’s daughter. Now begins Jati’s wager to rescue his daughter and end the Garassian council’s rule.
The narrative of Jati’s Wager is much like Goodbye to the Sun. However, where the first-person narrative in the previous book was Razor, in this book, it is nothing short of ingenious. The first-person narrative is Ai’s subconscious, her imaginary friend she has named Gerib. What Gerib does is protect Ai’s psyche by blocking off memories that are painful. Memories she will have to face, but slowly and at the right time. Gerib “knows” at some point he will no longer be needed when Ai can fully know and accept her past. The writing is beautiful as Gerib’s chapters speak of Ai and his role.
“Now here is what makes this extraordinary: I’m an imaginary friend. We’ve developed a social relationship. I’ve become a companion to a lonely, isolated child…But I serve to protect and shield Ai from internal exiles whose wounds can return to consciousness, triggering emergency responders…So I make decisions about how much, when, and if a memory can resurface. I don’t always succeed, but I try.” J. Nevair, Jati’s Wager
This was unusual, but was absolute perfection in order to understand Ai and how important she is. In subsequent chapters, Ai and Gerib “speak” to each other. She asking questions about what she should say or do, and Gerib “guiding” her through the process. The other chapters are third person narrative of the interactions of the characters and the plot. They do not focus solely on one character. The reader is given an overall sense of the crew, and especially Jati. The prose flows beautifully and poetic. When Jati takes Ai to Heroon, she is overwhelmed by the natural beauty. Jati takes her to see the Catinool trees, and she stares in wonder at them.
“Out here, in the natural landscape of Heroon, Ailo put together a greater understanding of humanity and it’s relationship to flora and fauna. The Catinools, the clouds, the rain, the wind, and the sea…she’s been living on the outside, at the fringe of a world politically and ecologically. And then it dawned on her: politics and ecology were both alluring and exciting…and also potentially threatening or even deadly…” J. Neavair, Jati’s Wager
Jati’s Wager is, on so many levels, a metaphor of what we are doing to this planet. This one statement here, this beautiful prose, sums it all up. We are all interconnected to every living organism, and to make the mistake of thinking we are not, has had dire consequences. As an Environmental Scientist, Mr. Nevair’s writing about ecology is spot on.
There are so many layers to dissect here. Tarkassi 9 and Kol 2 (which we saw more of in Goodbye to the Sun) can be metaphors for the destruction we are wielding on this planet. Think about the wind energy that planets are being terraformed to harvest. We think of wind energy as one solution to solve our dependence on fossil fuels. Here it becomes a symbol of greed and control. Something we view as good, becomes bad in this series. I don’t think that is the take away here. In writing this, Mr. Nevair speaks to greed of any kind, even when perceived as good. That greed is what has led to barren wastelands of planets and poor, destitute places like Tarkassi 9. This same greed has led to the ecological destruction, extinction, pollution and climate change we are now facing. The dichotomy is brilliant.
On the Carmora, the crew is like family and Ai becomes part of this family. There is JeJeto, the mechanic who also spars with Ai under Jati’s instruction to teach her fighting skills, Tera, the navigator, Nisi, a pilot, and Darro Kin-tuk-ti, aka, Boar, an ace pilot. The interactions between them are very much like a family, but also a working crew. Jati is always the voice of reason, but as their leader, he will put an end to anything that would jeopardize the mission they are to embark upon. It is dangerous and they all know it, but above all, they would follow Jati anywhere.
Jati themself is a study in opposites. They are a trained soldier, having fought in the Patent Wars. Jati has killed people in war and they bear the scars for it. As Jati the General and leading the People’s Army, they have become almost a pacifist, and yes, and idealist. It these characteristics that make them great. No matter what, they will not kill civilians, even in war. They will give their enemies a chance to join them. They are at once both tough and gentle. Jati is smart, a strategist, and a leader. They have the admiration of those in the Sag Arm they have liberated. They teach Ai the way of the warrior, that to be a warrior is not necessarily always mean fighting. As a martial artist, this was particularly meaningful as this is what we are taught:
“The Way,” Jati said. “That is what I am teaching you here.”
“Of a soldier?”
“No, Of the warrior” …
“Ideally, or philosophically, a warrior or soldier that is skilled enough and knows themselves-and therefore can know their enemy-shouldn’t have to fight…”
“You can be a warrior and never engage in physical combat…Many of those are among the strongest and wisest warriors of all.” J. Nevair, Jati’s Wager.
Jati is among the most well-written characters I have read. They are not perfect, but they try to follow their philosophy. Their growth from Goodbye to the Sun from the smuggler to the leader of the People’s Army paints a portrait of a complex, fascinating character.
Once we get past Ai’s fear and stubbornness, she begins to fit in. Jati becomes a parental figure to her, and becomes very protective of them. Gerib keeps her fears and past at bay, but we see it gradually unfold with the story. Nisi, a tough pilot on the ship, who is also lost her parent, becomes like a sister to Ai. Her interactions with Gerib make for a very interesting narrative. Ai directly asks Gerib what she should or should not do. Gerib is there to guide her, not to let her memories overwhelm her. As the story unfolds. So does the story of Ai and how special she is.
The other characters mentioned, JeJeto, Nisi, Tera and Boar, all fit together forming a family with Jati leading them. They are funny, they argue, but they stand by each other.
The pacing of the story was ideal. The action started right from the beginning and never let up. Character development was excellent, as this is a character driven novel. As much as there was action, the character interaction was essential. The character arcs were fully realized and so well done. There was never a time while reading that I felt like nothing was happening. Every word was a pleasure to read. It ran me through a gamut of emotions, but I came away knowing I had read a brilliant piece of literature.
Jati’s Wager is an absolutely magnificent novel. The characters are fully developed, and have complete story arcs. The main protagonists, Ailo and Jati fit so well together, as Ai comes to see Jati as parental figure and teacher, and becomes protective of them. She in awe of the them. Jati is a mentor, warrior, leader and teacher to his crew. They are the glue that binds them together, and it all works. The prose is beautiful and unique. The first-person narrative chapters are of Ai’s subconscious “friend” Gerib, who helps to keep her difficult memories at bay, thereby protecting her psyche. Other chapters move the story along with both action and character development. The story itself is an emotional roller coaster. When you can so deeply feel about characters and the story, you know you have just read an incredible novel. Jati’s Wager is perfection and science fiction at it’s finest. I highly recommend it.
Summary (from Storytellers on Tour)
A space opera heist brimming with action, twists, and turns that doubles as a story of personal growth, mentorship, and sacrifice.
Ailo is a streetwise teen surviving alone on the remote moonbase, Tarkassi 9. She wants nothing more than to flee into the wider world of the Arm. When her chance arrives, she makes it no farther than the first ship out of the system. That’s where Jati, the Patent War veteran and general fighting the Monopolies, gives her a second chance. It’s an unlikely partnership, but Ailo’s rogue status is just what Jati’s People’s Army needs to drive the final spike of victory into a weakening Garissian Council.
A team of experts assembles and hope rests on Ailo’s skill, stealth, and tenacity to pull off the impossible. It’s a wild gambit, and a moral code may need to be bent, or broken, to achieve success. When an internal shadow rises, casting doubt on their plans, Ailo and Jati are forced to weigh the cost of revenge against honor and justice.
My thanks to Storytellers on Tour for a copy of the book and eBook.
Find out more about the Wintide Series and Jonathan Nevair on his website: https://www.jonathannevair.com/
You can purchase the Jati’s Wager on Amazon