Fortuna wins the award for Sneakiest Book 2019, because it somehow flew under my radar while completely blowing my mind when I caught up to it now. Kristyn Merbeth, author of several post-apocalyptic horror novels, makes her space opera debut with what could be described as the Firefly/Shameless crossover you didn’t know you needed. Yes, a dysfunctional family takes on smuggling missions and lite piracy in the near future, in schemes literally launched by an addiction plagued big sister. 

The Kaiser family lives on spaceship Fortuna where they make cargo runs between five inhabited planets, centuries after Earth-that-was. The Kaisers have little competition since the planets only rarely let non-citizens enter, but birth on one of these planets guarantees citizenship, and there are five Kaiser children. Corvus, from militaristic Titan; Lyre, from opulent Deva; twins Drom and Pol from Nibiru; and Scorpia, who should have been born on Gaia, but due to premature birth, was born in space before the ship docked, all captained by their abusive and tyrannical Momma. Scorpia has been piloting the ship, assuming she’ll take over when Momma retires, and drinking heavily ever since Corvus got drafted into Titan’s endless civil war. But when Corvus signals that he has been discharged from the service, Momma lets the family know that she’s retiring and naming him as the captain of the Fortuna.

Scorpia’s jealousy of Momma’s love for Corvus sends the family spiraling on a caper that shifts interplanetary relations. Momma plays the siblings’ strengths and weaknesses off one another in a desperate attempt to scratch out a better life among the stars, but crafty generals, presidents, and pirates happen along the way. Sneaky, conniving Scorpia immediately and frequently clashes with the earnest, but battle-scarred Corvus over leadership of the crew and the other three kids do their best to keep up. They fight over drinking, gambling, romantic dalliances, but still work together to keep their thrashing family together.

My recommendation? Read it ASAP. Maybe don’t rush out to the bookstore to buy a copy right now, but certainly acquire one electronically. Kindles are a great option, I’m still reading Kindle books I bought years ago (they don’t exactly decay), but also public libraries often provide access to ebooks with your library card. So explore the world of digital collections, and while you’re at it, the stars.

Page count: 560

Four stars out of five.

Cover art for Fortuna features a silhouette of a ship and a pilot against a lunar eclipse.

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