Spirit by Gwyneth Jones
Very good, and definitely makes me interested in reading more by the author. The story is a takeoff of Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo in science fiction form--much like Bester's Stars My Destination, but paralleling the source closer in some ways, while flipping the gender of the protagonist. As well, the setting is very different and in several ways more innovative, furnished with the kind of small cultural details that make for a realistic-feeling universe, a real sense of complex characters inhabiting an unique and plausible future.
The intersections of aliens and humans is particularly well done, exploring the basis of intersection with the Other as the narrative runs through stock and well-represented elements of love, revenge and kinship. Even more focus is given to class and gender--the way identity is defined in these terms and the measure of potential beyond the rigid social boundaries associated with. By switching the protagonist from male to female, Jones offers somewhat of a subversive take on Dumas' and Bester's formula, and makes a nuanced case for the way gender as well as wealth is permorative. Seeing the protagonist cycle through different modes of femininity and masculinity across the novel makes for a strong thematic resonance. In the end it provides a substantive and meaningful rereading that is also a gripping story in its own right.
In the final analysis it's effective science fiction, investing heavily in its main imaginative premise and telling a story that works to the effectiveness of the genre. I'ts not perfect--there are long sections too slowly plotted and the full work could be more clear in establishing background details. Ultimately it succeeds, though, and does so no the strength of strong characterization connected to a very well developed story. Recommended for those seeking a classic and oft told story with some unique components.
Similar to and better than: The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
Similar to and worse than: Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin
Similar to and roughly equivalent in quality to: Far North by Marcel Theroux