Linden Lewis returns with The Second Rebel, follow up to their intriguing space opera debut The First Sister. The First Sister often felt a little derivative, drawing on some clear influences like The Handmaid’s Tale and Ann Leckie’s Ancillary series. But there were enough breadcrumbs and interesting characters to bring readers who enjoy a good space opera back for more. And Lewis does not disappoint with the sequel – upping the stakes, broadening the universe and creating some serious drama.
The three main point of view characters are narrating again in The Second Rebel – First Sister Astrid, and former partners Lito and Hiro. Lewis adds an additional perspective – Lito’s artistic sister Luce – but still manages to make all four voices distinct. For those who have not just finished The First Sister, the introductory chapters drop some the information that readers need to remember while also starting to advance the plot. And for the first half of the book at least all four characters are on parallel lines, none of them intersecting until the action starts to heat up in the propulsive back half. Only Astrid’s tale, which formed the centre of the first book, remains fairly unconnected until a stunning cliffhanger reveal on one of the final pages.
Following a peace agreement between the scientifically advanced Icarii and the Gaeans negotiated in the previous book, the plot revolves around the ongoing tension between the Icarii and the genetically engineered and the second-class Asters. A revolution is brewing and the Asters are seeking evidence of scientific experiments carried out on their people over the years by the Icarii. Meanwhile Astrid, now First Sister of Ceres, is angling to become Mother and root out corruption in her Order. But even with a few allies she finds herself swimming in shark infested waters full of operators with more political experience than her. The plot builds to a page turning stand-off full of tough ethical and moral decisions and deep character sacrifice.
Readers should not go into this looking for too many light moments or happy endings. Linden Lewis does not spare any character in The Second Rebel. But then, this is the second book in a trilogy so maybe a downbeat ending should be expected. Still, it is refreshing to read a story where the stakes feel real and no character is safe. And the while the action of this book is essentially wrapped up there are plenty of hanging threads and a couple of late potentially game-changing cliffhangers which are certain to bring fans of this series back for the finale.