Lessons in Birdwatching by Honey Watson
(Angry Robot, 2023)
Reviewed by Steven French
Billed as ‘darkly comic’, this novel of political intrigue, magic and murder is certainly dark, with bloody chunks of body horror scattered liberally throughout but I have to admit, I found it hard to spot the comedic elements. Set on Apech, a planet whose leaders aspire to union with the Crysthian Empire, it features as its central protagonists five young emissaries of the empire, representing its four symbiotic factions, ‘Red’, ‘Military’, ‘Green’ and ‘Ethicist’, each of which has its own imperial figurehead. ‘It works’ is all we are told about the functional arrangements. Bored and dissolute, serving their time in this backwater before—they hope—entering the highest levels of the empire’s civil service, the five suddenly find themselves plunged into a violent maelstrom of conspiracy and insurrection after one of Apech’s leaders is brutally slaughtered, her body displayed alongside what could be an anti-Crysthian slogan. Inexperienced and woefully unprepared, four of the five flounder but not Wilhelmina Ming, in line to be the next Ambassador and already planet-side when the others arrive. Following her own agenda, her actions threaten to plunge not just Apech but Crysth itself into deadly chaos.
Review from BSFA Review 22 - Download your copy here.