When her uncle, the emperor dies, Alyssa Farshot enters a deadly competition against her childhood friends: the heirs of the galaxy’s most powerful (and most dangerous) families. She’s experienced, capable, and favored to win. She just doesn’t want to.
While the whole escape-from-impending-queendom arc is massively overdone in YA canon, Crownchasers turns the trope on its head. For one, it’s not about running away from a betrothal. She just wants to narrowly avoid death while planet-hopping with her ship and her best friend Hell Monkey, and that would be very difficult to do with the responsibility of the empire on her head. Secondly, she’s thrust into a competition to earn the crown rather than leaving her empire to flounder in her absence, which I’d consider more evidence of her conscientious nature.
I found Alyssa to be a very interesting character. As much as she is brash and fearless, she’s also continuously reflecting on her actions and their effect on others. The actual reflection on what taking power would mean for not only her, but for her empire.
(That shouldn’t be in the positive column as it feels like the bare minimum, but when I say that self-reflection was a shock I mean I put that book down and started contemplating my reading choices of the past ten years.)
She’s also sapphic, but it’s not the whole point of the book, which is irrelevant but also pretty sick if I do say so myself. No bias, I promise.
A component of the majority of the space operas I’ve read recently has been a casual tone. I’m not sure what it is about these futuristic settings that makes that type of conversational style so appealing, but it works. The first person, present tense certainly plays into that. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to transition from nonchalant quips to somber reflection without preemptively releasing some of the intended tension. While Crownchasers doesn’t quite avoid that misstep, Alyssa’s character retains her intended depth.
The competition aspect of the plot is itself, while interesting, more of a backdrop to the characters and their antics. What I appreciated most was the introduction to the colonized planets and those which are purely intended to produce for the rich Prime families. A shocking and unfamiliar concept that does not reflect reality whatsoever. I remain appalled and aghast to this moment.
Anyways, this remains a great vehicle for exploring the universe Coffindaffer created, and a useful tool to introduce a steady pace and effective if predictable character introduction mechanism.
Said characters range in depth and likability, and the built-in background of her competitors being her childhood friends (and one of them being her ex), as well as her best friend being her engineer and sole shipmate, there’s a lot of backfilling to be done which gives Crownchasers another check in the light read column. While easier to digest than the building of multiple new character relationships, this has the almost inevitable result of those interactions having less impact. Hell Monkey and Alyssa are adorable, don’t get me wrong, but something about seeing a relationship develop on-screen (page?) just hits different. There isn’t much work (emotional or mental) needed to be done by the reader as far as queer anti-colonial agitprop goes, and that’s a perfectly fine way to end a reading slump and start the new year.
Crownchasers is what I’d call a palette cleanser: the type of book to pick up after a very emotional, intense series that had you clawing at walls yelling at the trees and the like. It’s fun and sweet, certainly not life-changing, but a very good Young Adult Sci-fi novel, especially for those new to the genre.