Book Review: The Vela by Yoon Ha Lee, Rivers Solomon, Becky Chambers & S.L. Huang

Genre : Science Fiction

Publisher : Serial Box

Length : 265 pages

Format : eARC

Rating : 2,5 stars

Publication Date : March 6th 2019


In the fading light of a dying star, a soldier for hire searches for a missing refugee ship and uncovers a universe-shattering secret.

Orphan, refugee, and soldier-for-hire Asala Sikou doesn’t think too much about the end of civilization. Her system’s star is dying, and the only person she can afford to look out for is herself.

When a ship called The Vela vanishes during what was supposed to be a flashy rescue mission, a reluctant Asala is hired to team up with Niko, the child of a wealthy inner planet’s president, to find it and the outer system refugees on board.

But this is no ordinary rescue mission; The Vela holds a secret that places the fate of the universe in the balance, and forces Asala to decide—in a dying world where good and evil are far from black and white, who deserves to survive?


Asala Sikou is a mercenary working for the president of Khayyam, a rich and powerful planet from the inner system. Asala herself is from Hypatia, a dying planet from the outer system. She had to flee Hypatia when she was still a child and since then, Asala tried to erase her days on Hypatia from her memory.

Everything changes for her when she’s ordered to rescue The Vela, a spaceship full of refugees from another dying planet, with the help of Niko, the child of Khayyam’s president.  Asala is not exactly looking forward to her new mission. First of all, she doesn’t want to babysit Niko and she doesn’t particularly want to help the refugees. The entire system is dying, saving one ship is not going to change that.

However, Asala soon realizes that her new assignment is not an ordinary rescue mission. The Vela is at the center of a power struggle between different political alliances and the ship may contain someone or something that may save the dying system – and change the course of humanity.

The Vela is a serialized novel written by four fantastic authors: Yoon Ha Lee, Rivers Solomon, Becky Chambers and S.L. Huang. Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire is one of my favorite trilogies, Rivers Solomon’s The Deep made my favorite list of 2020, I loved Burning Roses by S.L. Huang and I also tend to like Chambers’ books. So, saying that I was excited for the Vela is the understatement of the century.

However, while I enjoy each of the authors’ individual works, I have lukewarm feelings about The Vela. It does have interesting elements: one of the main character Niko, is non-binary and their gender identity is never questioned by any of the characters. I think it’s important to have such a representation in stories and to normalize non-binary characters. The Vela is also at its heart a story about the refugee crisis caused by climate change. Humans are slowly dying because the system’s sun was mined to death by a planet and now, it’s not hot enough to warm the galaxy. Planets are becoming too cold for humans, they can’t grow food anymore and their tech is falling apart.

The planets first affected by the dying sun were at the outer edge of the system but, planet after planet, people have to flee to the warmer regions of space that are closer to the sun. Of course, the planets from the inner part of the system don’t look kindly upon the waves of refugees and some, like Gan-De, destroy all the refugee ships trying to land on their territory.

To be honest, I didn’t think the setup for the refugee crisis really made sense. We are supposed to believe that a system of dozens of planets allowed one planet to sabotage the galaxy without doing anything to prevent that. Knowing humans and their tendencies to go to war for (much) less than that… It’s hard to believe that such a situation makes sense. I could have looked passed that if I had enjoyed the story or the characters but… I was also disappointed by these aspects of the story.

Let’s start with the characters. I liked Asala enough even if she had no personality to speak of and that she was basically the perfect representation of the “badass woman who appears cold at first but who has a big heart” stereotype. The second main character is Niko and… I found them even less interesting than Asala. Niko is supposed to be a super talented hacker with a heart of gold but, they just annoyed me. First of all, for someone who is supposed to be so clever that they managed to hack and destroy robots and AIs created by Gan-De, a planet known for its tech, in a matter of minutes, Niko makes a ton of dumb mistakes. I get that they are still young but, I couldn’t trust their abilities when they were so naive and gullible.

Finally, I didn’t think the story was anything special. I appreciated the themes of The Vela but the execution was boring and made a bit awkward by the weird transition between the episodes. It also didn’t help that the various authors’ writing style were very distinct, which created an overall uneven reading experience. I don’t remember this being the case when I read (and very much enjoyed!) Machina, another Serial Box title.

I can see why some readers would enjoy The Vela but it didn’t work for me, I won’t read the second season and I don’t particularly recommend it.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for a honest review. My thanks to Serial Box and Netgalley for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

18 thoughts on “Book Review: The Vela by Yoon Ha Lee, Rivers Solomon, Becky Chambers & S.L. Huang

  1. I definitely found the reading experience uneven (less so the audio reading experience – which maybe says more about how I process audio), but sorry to hear this was such a clunker for you. I at least enjoyed the buddy relationship between Asala/Niko and delighted in cold-hearted General Cynwrig enough that this ended up an extra star for me. That said, I’m really not enjoying season two – an entirely new writing team seem to have dropped all the aspects I loved and I’m not loving what they’ve chosen instead, or the crashstop from too-fast-paced to five-episodes-in-and-it’s-still-on-context-not-plot…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sorry the second season isn’t working for you, I didn’t want to give it a try before but now I’m a 100% sure I’m not going to 😂😂
      General Cynwrig was an interesting character and I think I would have enjoyed The Vela more if her role in the story had been bigger. But I didn’t care about Asala and Niko’s relationship because I didn’t care about them as individual characters sadly. 😦


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