I fully picked this book up in Barnes and Noble because it had a rec from Suzanna Collins on the cover. I have no shame in admitting that. And, ok, I liked the cover, too. And the title. And, fine, I read a few pages and that tickled me enough to buy it. But still. When Suzanne Collins is reccing things, well, I’m dang sure going to listen. And boy am I glad I did.
Black Hole Sun tells the story of Cowboy. Or Durango. Or Jacob. Three names that all refer to one incredibly awesome lead character. Durango is a regulator on Mars, where it seems at least part or maybe all of humanity has relocated. Regulator’s are sort of like Jedi – they have a moral code they live by and don’t kill for the sake of killing. But he isn’t a real regulator anymore. He’s dalit, and he’s an outcast (cue girly sigh). Durango and his fellow regulators agree to travel to an old mining posts to help the miners – who are kind of the dregs of Mars society – fight a cannibalistic enemy who wants to feast on their children.
Even though this is clearly a science fiction novel, it was perfectly tailored to a young adult audience. The science-y stuff (see how technical and savvy I am?) is kept to a definitely readable and enjoyable level. Instead, Gills focused on the style of a sci-fi book – the feelings it evokes in the reader. Durango was brash and space cowboy-esque. He frequently let out his feelings in exclamations in foreign languages. But not alien languages, French or Chinese etc. This was not only helpful in adding some familiarity, but it told us a lot about the world Gills created on Mars, one in which humanity has simply popped itself across space and kept a lot of the same history. And the action in the novel was excellently done – fast-paced but still readable and intense without resulting to gore (which was a feat considering the fact that the enemy likes to eat people). Oh! And having just a couple chapters of villain point of view really set the pace of the book – it gave enough background to raise the stakes for the reader without spoiling the overall plot by losing the mystery of what was going on with the bad guys.
My favorite part of this book was Durango. I liked that he had a troubled history but refused to let it define him. I liked that he wanted to be his own man and was willing to break the “rules” – even if it meant giving up on something he wanted – to do the right thing. He was strong without being perfect. He was funny and humble and it was so clear that he was someone to respect and look up to. And I love the fact that he treated his subordinates as equals, that he was quick to point out and rely on the strength of the people in his group.
Which brings me to Vienne. It’s nice to see a female supporting character who has the same strength and brains possessed by the male lead. And it’s nice to see the male appreciate it. Part of the reason Durango works so well with Vienne is that he does know that he can count on her. But he also knows she isn’t made of glass and when he has hard decisions to make he can make them without worrying about her going to pieces on him – and he can make them even if he knows it will make her hate him. Because she has the strength to put that away and focus on the big picture.
The rest of the supporting cast was also fun and well done. Each character had a niche, but they filled it well and they all came together to make a really fun group dynamic. Mimi especially – the “Artificial intelligence” unit transplanted in Durango’s brain and the one who calls him Cowboy – was an added level of intrigue. She is such a part of Durango yet separate and apart, torn between a human part of him and a mechanical tool which played perfectly into the story. I wanted to know more about Mimi throughout the book, and getting to see her evolving relationship with her Cowboy was a lot of fun.
My only problem with Mimi was that there was some inconsistency in how Durango talked to her. Sometimes it was in quotes and sometimes it wasn’t, so it was often hard to tell if he was saying something aloud to her or thinking etc. And really, my one complaint about this novel actually had nothing to do with the story. Scattered throughout, and especially towards the end, were a variety of typographical errors etc. There weren’t a ton, but they occurred at intense bits. On the one hand, it made me smile because I’d guess even the editor was so caught up in the end that they might have missed it. But I saw them, and they pulled me out of the magic that was the final fourth of the book a bit.
My only other complaint is that I want to know more. More about Durango. More about Mars. More about the history of humanity that led them there. More about the regulators. And I can only hope that enough people other than me read this book so we can find out more. Because if the author isn’t planning a sequel, I’m going to pout for an unseemly amount of time for someone my age.
Black Hole Sun is fast-paced, exciting, funny, and yet still smart and emotional. I hope y’all love it as much as I did.