Pros: Fascinating main character
Cons: A bit slow
Rating: 4 out of 5
Elizabeth McCoy’s Queen of Roses takes place on a cruise ship–spaceship, to be precise. It is run by two artificial intelligences, Pilot and Sarafina. The AI that previously held Sarafina’s job went rogue and wiped its own personality. Sarafina used to be an accounting AI, but she thinks she’ll be able to handle running a cruise ship, even if it does require dealing with biologicals more than she’d like. Unfortunately for her, however, things get weird right from the start. Her owner is a skinflint, so the crappy technology on the cruise ship keeps going down. Thanks to some glitching cameras she manages to lose track of a young woman who isn’t supposed to be on board, and the woman’s aunt, Mrs. Selsda, who is a passenger, doesn’t seem too alarmed. Little things that Sarafina doesn’t know to pay attention to suggest Mrs. Selsda may also be up to something. There’s a group of children running amok, and a free AI, Loren, who’s a fiction author may be up to something as well.
There are plenty of layers to this sci-fi mystery. It starts out with just some weird occurrences and behaviors, leaving us to wonder which of several passengers or groups of passengers are up to something, and what. As tension slowly climbs we begin to see patterns emerging, but the question of who exactly is up to what remains unclear. The story does move slowly–it’s really a character study as much as it is anything else, and a fair amount of the narrative consists of dialogue. Sarafina is a fascinating AI, and her interactions with Pilot and Loren, as well as some of the crew and passengers, give her a ton of personality. We get to watch her grow and develop as she learns to do new things, interacts with other personalities, and encounters situations that are well outside of her normal operating parameters. All of the characters in here have depth and interest, and I cared about what happened to some of them. There is a whimsical tone to all of this as well.
I wasn’t one hundred percent satisfied with the ending, but it worked out well. The mystery was hearty enough for me to sink my teeth into, and had layers to keep me guessing. Plenty was going on, and there was enough good character material, that the slow pace was fine. It’s fun, intriguing, and just a little bit wacky.