Title: Persephone Station
Author: Stina Leicht
Genre: Adult Sci-Fi
Version: ARC – ebook
Page Count: 512
Publisher: Gallery/Saga Press
Add To-Read on: GoodReads, StoryGraph
Notable Notables: Characters that are predominately female and non-binary with LGBTQ+ rep
Recommended Readers: Seekers of feminism in space opera
CAWPILE Rating: 3.14
Star Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Thank you, to NetGalley and the publisher, for offering this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
I was taken in by Stina Leicht’s Persephone Station the moment I saw its beautifully artistic cover and was sold when I read what it was being compared to: a blend of Cowboy Bebop and The Mandalorian but with a leading cast of women, non-binary, and queer characters.
Upon reading it, however, my excitement quickly fizzled. By far the coolest thing about the book is its cover, not the representation it delivers. The author seems to have focused so hard on providing good, squeaky-clean diversity and rep that she forgot a key element: making the characters and its plot interesting. There isn’t a hint of the eclectic friction found in the Cowboy Bebop cast, and it’s also sorely missing the heart of The Mandalorian. If I could sum up Persephone Station and its characters in a few words, they would be “safe and boring.”
First, though, a slight overview. The planet of Persephone is controlled by rival gangs and the Serrao-Orlov Corporation. However, the planet is secretly home to an indigenous group of beings called the Emissaries, which would make any of Serrao-Orlov’s claims to the planet in violation of galactic law. The CEO of the corporation wants to keep the Emissaries a secret and exploit them for her own gains. Rosie, the criminal gang leader running Monk’s Bar, has their own reasons for wanting to protect the Emissaries, so they hire a group of mercenaries for what could be a suicide run. Enter Angel de la Reza and her rag-tag crew, Lou, Enid, and Sukyi.
For the first third of Persephone Station, info-dumping abounds but it doesn’t seem to say much. While it tells me way too much about every character’s backstory while glossing over key details, it doesn’t offer these facts in a way that makes any character sound particularly unique or contributes to a sense of world-building, which often feels like a neglected addition. I have no idea why Catholicism, for instance, is emphasized so much as having contributed to the colonization of space beyond a subtle dig from the author, perhaps. Old Earth is mentioned, along with a plague that made many people leave it for space, but it rings hollow, nowhere near fully fleshed out despite it being a core backstory element of one character.
Speaking of the characters, they all largely get along with no problems. Aside from some weak banter, Angel, Lou, Enid, and Sukyi have no intriguing friction between them, no interpersonal drama, no grudges, no hangups, not even any notable idiosyncrasies to distinguish them from each other. None of them are even dating each other, either. Which, you know, friendship is all well and good, but if everyone is wonderful and amazing and cool with each other, then it makes for an incredibly dull affair to read. They are all defined much more by their rep and what jobs they perform on the ship than personality traits.
Diversity and representation is a good thing, but characterization cannot stop there. Well-written characters need to be so much more than that. They need to have defined good and bad traits, and those need to be played with. Having all four of Angel’s crew on the page at the same time is like reading the same character non-stop. It got to the point where I was skipping over dialogue tags because it really didn’t matter much who was saying what. There was never a sense that any character had a character arc or was growing in any direction, positively or negatively.
Rosie got a few more extra points for being non-binary, but they are not in the book enough to make too much of an impression. For being a gang leader, they are also remarkably bland. Where is the spice? Where are the moral contradictions, the internal battles, the dirty dealings? Have I mentioned I was bored the whole time?
By the halfway mark, action was at least happening on the page, but at this point I didn’t care about any of the characters for it to make a difference. The actions that happened to them stirred no reaction in me, and far too often, characters were doing things only because the plot demanded it of them. I couldn’t click with their reasoning for doing anything, cocooned in Plot Armor as it was; character motivations and personal desires just weren’t in the picture. The only character who remotely piqued my interest at all was Kennedy Liu; in fact, her entire AI side plot was far more interesting than the grand majority of the book, and yet it is barely covered. At the same time, it matters a lot to the main plot. Most of the time, I thought the author had forgotten about it.
Essentially, for being a 512-page book, Persephone Station attempts to do far too much without succeeding at anything. At the same time, it makes perfect sense to be a standalone because I’m not sure where other books could go with such a shaky foundation, which was stretched all too thin. Perhaps others will find comfort in such straight and narrow characters and plot, but I need conflict beyond a weak stand against a capitalistic villain if I’m to have a good time.