Title: Wayward Saint (Mercy for Hire: Mission 1)
Publisher: Magical Scrivener Press
Author: J.S. Morin
Price: 0.99 cents (ebook) / $14.99 (paperback)
Esper Richfield is a wizard. She is also a priestess, a do-gooder, and the galaxy’s worst bounty hunter. She doesn’t take jobs for the money: she takes them because it’s the right thing to do, and someone out there needs her help. And so she and her partner Kubu (not really a dog, long story) find themselves on Alpha Centauri hunting down a runaway teenager named Tiffany St. Cloud. But there is a rival bounty hunter on Tiffany’s trail, Tiffany doesn’t want to go home at all, her estranged parents have their own very bad reasons for wanting to track her down, and Kubu is hungry again. Also, did I mention the Convocation of Wizards, which is very interested in finding Esper?
Pure space fantasy, which gives equal weight to technology and magic, is a rare treat for me. Such books are few and far between. And so I was delighted when I came across Wayward Saint, which hits every mark on my Must Have list, starting with a protagonist that I can cheer for.
Esper is terrific. The daughter of a Martian crime family, she ran away as a teen, found asylum at Our Lady of Mercy, joined the One Church as a priestess, became a wizard, and set out to save the galaxy one person at a time. She keeps in long-distance contact with some members of her family (for those rare occasions when working with them will serve the greater good), and has collected a motley assortment of fellow, edge-of-the-law do-gooders (thieves, smugglers, other wizards).
I love the depiction of magic in Wayward Saint. “Esper had explained magic enough times that [Kubu had] gotten the general idea. Willpower, an argument, and either tricking, bullying, or sweet-talking the universe into changing its mind. That was all it took to change the way things were.” And changing an inanimate object is always easier, as Esper demonstrates early on.
Laying a palm on the door, Esper spoke within her own head. All those little molecules whizzing around, not actually touching. Makes you wonder why any of this door stays together.
As an inanimate object, the door didn’t offer any argument to the contrary. In such cases, as it so often did, the universe sided with the wizard. The door blocking Esper’s path to her quarry fell away as a pile of dust.
Esper goes on to explain that technology stops making sense to wizards after a while. Science has its uses, but magic is so much more colorful and fun. Even star-drives require magical-mechanical hybrid engines to carry ships in and out of the astral plane, back and forth to realspace.
(I love the little paradoxical background bits that parallel the conflict between/opposition of magic and science. For example, the bar where Esper first tracks down Tiffany is The Drowning Camel.)
Wayward Saint is also a curious mixture of big-hearted fun and foul-mouthed noir. Esper herself never says a bad word, but Tiffany swears like the proverbial sailor. There is no sex in the book, but there is a squicky scene in which Tiffany is bound, gagged, drugged, and held captive by the rival bounty hunter. Not elements I would usually associate, but they all worked together in this particular narrative
Wayward Saint is part of the larger Black Ocean fictional universe. While it does have ties to other series (notably the Galaxy Outlaws books), it can be read on its own; I haven’t read any of the other Black Ocean titles, but I had no problem following along.
Wayward Saint is a fun, fast, and highly entertaining read. Highly recommend to fans of Aliette de Bodard’s Xuya Universe books, Lindsey Buroker’s Star Kingdom series, and Anna Hackett’s Phoenix Adventures.
[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. A complete list of her published works can be found there.]