Had I not already resolved my “book of the year” lists for 2022, this magnificent book would surely have been in contention for my ultimate favs – I loved it THAT much. As such, to pay tribute to the awesomeness of this novel, and in the interests of fairness, I’m putting it forward for consideration in my 2023 “book of the year” evaluations.
Nevair’s novel takes us to the Sagittarius Arm, a galactic system where trouble lurks, with the avarice and cruelty of the dominant powers, who have monopolized resources, and essentially subjugated other factions, having stirred the fever of rebellion against them.
The book centres on two main characters. One is Keen Draden, an ambassador from the influential Council domains of the planetary system, with a very influential father. Arrogant, cynical, tortured, aging and out-of-shape, Keen still has the political acumen, background as a warrior, intellect, and connections to be a formidable player in galactic affairs.
The other primary character is Razor, a fierce warrior from a tribal group – known as Motes – inhabiting the isolated sands of the planet Kol 2. Passionate, cunning, loyal to her people, with nerves of steel, Razor is going to do whatever it takes to do her part to save the Mote.
Razor, an elite pilot, and her Mote compatriots, are desperate to throw off the yolk of the powerful Targitians, who have revised Razor’s planet of resources, turning it from once green and lush into a wasteland. In a last-resort effort, Razor decides to kidnap Keen, to use him as a political pawn in the Mote rebellion against the Targitians.
Beyond that, another uprising is underway, involving an old war comrade of Keen’s, a charismatic mercenary named Jati, who is tied to an important person in Keen’s life, from whom he is estranged.
Unsurprisingly, things go horribly wrong with Razor’s plan, and the two nominal adversaries must form a fragile alliance, when facing common threats. Plotlines converge, action explodes, and tragedy strikes in this incredibly written, plaintive, and haunting novel.
This character-driven book is absolutely phenomenal in terms of how it crafts its main and auxiliary players. Instead of speaking about how these characters are drawn, as I typically do in reviews, I want to address the distinctive ways used by the author through POV to convey the characters to the reader.
The author notes that “Goodbye to the Sun”, is inspired by the play “Antigone”, written by famous Greek tragedian, Sophocles. The eponymous Antigone, daughter of King Oedipus of Thebes, (he who of legend, killed his father and married his mother) is that play’s protagonist.
In “Antigone”, after Oedipus becomes an exile following his parricide and incest, his sons Eteocles and Polynices fight each other for the kingdom of Thebes, and both perish. Then Creon, brother-in-law to Oedipus and successful King of Thebes after the conflict, honours Eteocles, but disparages Polynices as a traitor.
The play focuses on Antigone attempting to bury her brother Polynices despite the edict of Creon that Polynices is beneath contempt, and should be denied a decent burial.
Since “Antigone” engendered “Goodbye to the Sun”, the reader will be treated to muted allusions to “Antigone”, in terms of themes, and in particular the flair of the narrative. The POVs in “Goodbye to the Sun” are done in a very interesting and somewhat peculiar fashion. The book alternates between 3rd, and first person, and the mood and feel of these different perspectives also shifts as the point of view changes. Razor is allotted the 1st person, speaking about the past, from a place of incarceration. Meanwhile Keen gets the 3rd person, where the readers sees more of the present action.
The effect? We learn more about Razor’s intimate thoughts, feelings, and aspirations, especially about Keen, and thus for me her tale becomes one of KEEN, even more than about herself, and her people. Meanwhile, Keen’s POV reflects a lot of his backstory, past, in particular his time as a military man, what haunts him, his dysfunctional relationship with his parent, and more.
With this 3rd person POV, and what it revealed about the ambassador, I found myself feeling a lot of empathy for Keen, more so than Razor, especially with all the foreshadowing about the fates of both main characters. It served to make the denouement much more impactful, poignant, and lamentable, and was indeed very reminiscent of my favourite Greek tragedies.
In terms of themes, there are a plethora of fascinating and compelling ones to be found in the novel. Rebellion, found family, socio-economic and geopolitical tensions, diplomacy, etiquette, biological warfare, monopolization of resources and technology, colonialism, subjugation and dictatorships, grief, loss, manipulation, PTSD, addiction, greed, fanaticism, rebellion, clashing of cultures, and so much more gave me food for thought in this incredibly deep and philosophical book. Nevair is definitely a highly cerebral writer, and I adored that aspect of his writing.
One thing I need to mention in terms of writing is how Nevair progressively utilizes gender pronouns. In the world of Sagittarius Arm, words are altered to define people based on gender / non-gender identity.
There are plenty of thrilling action scenes, aerial battles, hand-to-hand combat, and pulse-pounding moments of betrayal, surprise twists, among all quieter, reflective and introspective moments.
Now comes perhaps the best element of a great book with tons of amazing elements: the prose. Eloquent, striking, descriptive, sometimes poetic, I ate the prose up in this book.
I submit an early favourite passage here:
“The shuttle completed its turn and five long, sleek building intruded on the emptiness out the portal. Their geometrically precise forms ran along the planet’s sands like stealthy aquatic creatures breaking an ocean’s surface. Inside each, a hidden cornucopia of biodiversity and affluent human culture countered the harsh outside realities of the isolate planet. Soothe by the quicksilver, Keen’s attention shifted from the uncouth exterior to thoughts of upcoming delights at Targite’s sheltered oasis. he edged up in his seat, eyes following the slender, mirrored structures as they ran into the distance. The legendary Fins. Miles back at their terminuses, colossal circular capture tubes curved upward and forward to face the barrage of raging air during the Wind Tides, channeling the wayward currents to power the city.”
Engaging, exciting, intellectual, superlatively written, an inventive space opera that will linger in the reader’s mind long after the last page is turned, I’d give “Goodbye to the Sun” more than five stars if allowed. This is absolutely a series I will be completing, and I can’t wait for the next installment. A stupendous achievement by Jonathan Nevair.