Friday, December 1, 2023

Microreview: Fortune's Favor by Jo Graham

Fortune's Favor continues Jo Graham's mythologically infused space opera series and 'verse

Caralys has a problem. She's been attached to House Melian by contract as an escort (gaura) for a number of years and has carved out a life with its head, the head of the city of Beira, Helios.. But now, when Helios' child, Theo, is captured in an act of piracy by Calpurnian raiders intent on exchanging him for money, riches, and oh yes, recruits for the Calpurnian Navy, desperate times are here on Menachemi. The planet has no ships to fight this threat, the other cities are of no help. Helios is busy with very important Festival preparations.  What Caralys needs is an unorthodox solution...

And therein lies the tale of Fortune's Favor, the third space opera novel in the Calpurnian Wars saga from Jo Graham.

The first Calpurnian Wars novels introduced us to Graham's far future space opera (with perhaps flavors of Space Fantasy), set in a series of unique worlds and cultures rich in myth, legend and belief. In Sounding the Dark, we were introduced to Bister, a smuggler who is tasked with finding a legendary spaceship to help stop a Calpurnian onslaught on the planet Eresh.. Bister is a fixer, she gets things done. By chance, or one might say, by fortune, she happens to be on the planet at the time of Theo's capture.

Also visiting Menachemi is a scout ship from the planet Morrigan. Morrigan is from the second novel, Warlady.  Morrigan is many things, including being the planet of electromancers. Jauffre Castal-Edo, like all electromancers, is a secret and special resource of Morrigan, and are widely not understood or trusted to be out on their own. But times are changing and Boral, son of Jauffre, is on a scoutship of Morrigan that just happens to be  having shore leave at Beira at the time of events...

Fortune's Favor introduces both Bister and  Boral,, together with Caralys as potential solutions to the problem of kidnapped Theo.  In a real sense, then, Graham, now in her third novel in this verse, felt that this is the time to cross the streams and introduce two of the strands of her universe to each other, in the new setting of Menachemi.

Menachemi is part and parcel of Graham's space opera verse.  The fractured City State setup of the cities of this world is a vivid canvas for Graham's penchant and skill for rich cultural details and complex societies that reminded me of Bronze Age Phoenician city states. There is no planetary government, and not a lot of government in general even within the city of Beira. Whereas Morrigan was very much a hardscrabble world with a lot of social levelling, and Eresh was a breakaway colony world, with Menachemi, we get a rich world, a series of cities along a coast that outwardly looks like it has the Good Life.

But not quite. The fractuous and disunited inhabitants of Menachemi and their city states can't agree on anything, find political control anathema. The head of Beira is not called a President, or a King, but a *Guardian*, and his power and control have severe limits. There are winners and losers in this society. This shocks Boral, who has never seen out and out poverty, before (and for that matter, extreme wealth--he gets to experience both in the novel).  Graham leavens this with a strong focus on religion, tradition and belief in the city, the Festival that Helios is preparing for, as an example of "Space Polytheism" that is a feature of her verse. While we've seen religion before in this series, this novel amps up that a notch and seeing how that religiosity affects an entire society.  

But even here, while Beira and Menachemi seems to be an interesting Space Polytheism, there is the matter of the breakaway Merrow. The Merrow live on the other side of the mountains from the rich cities of the coast, in a rather inhospitable desert. The Merrow reject not only the temporal authority of the cities and those who live there, but also all of the deities worshipped by the cities. They are strict monotheists, considering their "Third Lord" to be the only real God, and all the others to be delusions or worse. The people of the cities consider the Merrow to be fanatics of the desert, and the Merrow consider the cities corrupting centers of sin. 

With all of this worldbuilding, the threat of a Calpurnian ship, and a rich set of characters both old and new, in many ways this novel does not quite have the room to breathe that it really deserves. There is a lot here and a lot to unpack, think about and uncover, but given the size of the book, the plotting itself feels sometimes a little too short shrift for its own good. In creating this rich city state with an interesting background, culture, and characters, the actual throughline of the plot sometimes feels like it doesn't have so much of a rich complexity that I've seen in Graham's other novels.

There is one thing that does bother me about the world and setup.  So, the key problem that Beira faces is that they have no defenses against a Calpurnian cruiser that has shown up, with the son of the Guardian as a captive, and demanding money and raw recruits. The Calpurnian ship has a fair number of missiles, and can level the city, which just amps up the stakes. While I think I appreciate the social commentary here (these libertarian esque rich city states haven't spend any money on defense), it did feel a little weird that the planet has nothing to do except try and hire a pirate ship that luckily has wandered by, as well as the efforts to get Theo off of the ship. I would have thought that they would have at least something. Even Eresh, in Sounding Dark, had at least a token and inadequate defense. For Beira, for the planet to have nothing, to have had nothing, feels like it is a commentary and allusion to the Italian City States of Medieval Italy...but even when there wasn't an army of condottieri to hire to protect oneself, the cities weren't completely helpless to any army that came by.  

Overall, however, I enjoyed the novels, even given my questions and concerns Fortune's Favor continues to develop and deepen the space opera world Graham introduced to us in Sounding Dark and The Warlady, tying together those disparate threads into a new and vividly imagined world,  Combine this with characters from the first two novels in the series, and new ones, and Graham shows how she's grown her world organically and compellingly in this latest volume with a compelling story grounded in the very real and present desires and motivations of her creations.


  • Phoenician/Bronze Age style culture meets Space Opera
  • Compelling, personal and strongly oriented story
  • Deepening of mythology, history and background of her verse

Graham, Jo, Fortune's Favor [Candlemark and Gleam, 2023]

POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I'm just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.