A girl, a future destined for her since she was born, and her choice that changes everything.
Salvage follows Parastrata Ava, a teenage girl, the daughter of a space captain. Her life is ordered, she knows her place, and where she stands in the pecking order of her family and the rest of the crew. She has little choice with what she does with her time, and even less choice with what will happen to her in the future. On the ship, it is clear what roles men and women have; their lives kept separately, the men educated one way, and the women barely educated, if at all. Ava hopes that one day she will be matched with a good man. If the stars are aligned in the right way, that man will be Luck, a boy she knows from another ship. Polygamy is the way of life for the people of the space ships, unlike the world of Earth that few women, Ava included, know about. Because Ava is young, she doesn’t know if she will be a first wife to the man she will marry.
The marriages help keep and carry contracts between the families on the ships, and it is all Ava has ever known.
When it is announced that Ava will be married to a man from the Æther, the same ship that Luck is on, she is hopeful that he will be the one. As the two crews prepare for the wedding, Ava imagines what her life will be like once she and Luck are married. She has been friends with his sister, Soli, for some time, having met Soli and Luck when the two were children. Soli is bolder in personality than Ava, and they balance each other out. Soli is pleased that her brother and Ava will be matched.
Ava’s restlessness gets the better of her one night, and she wanders around the Æther, eventually running into Luck. The two decide to go swimming, and the tension between them gets to be too much. Knowing that they are to be married soon, they sleep together, but are caught by crew members, and hauled in front of both of their fathers. It is then revealed that Ava was not to be married to Luck, but to his father, the captain of the Æther. Luck’s father beats him, and Ava’s father takes her away, back to the Parastrata. Ava doesn’t know if Luck’s father will kill him, or deposit him on Earth, and her fate is likely to be the same.
Ava is locked in a freezer, but stubbornly refuses to freeze, as her family would want her to, before they eject her into the Void; into space. She is rescued by Iri, one of her relatives, who tells her that Ava can escape to Earth, to find her mother’s sister, her aunt. Ava has no choice — if she goes to Earth to find her aunt in Mumbai, she will live, but if she is caught by her father, she will die. Ava and Iri flee the ship and look for a way to get a transport to Earth from the docking station where their ship is set. They try to bargain with a mail carrier, Captain Guiteau, who initially refuses them. But with Ava’s father and the rest of the crew hot on their heels, Iri is caught by Ava’s father and Guiteau has pity on Ava, taking her away.
They make it to Earth, but Ava suffers terribly, due to never having felt Earth’s gravity. The Captain, whose real name is Perpétue, and her daughter Miyole, nurse Ava back to health.
As Ava tries to put the pieces of her new life together, she knows that things will never be the same.
Perpétue and Miyole have carved out a small, but proud life for themselves, and Ava feels eternally grateful to them. Her desire to find her aunt is put on hold temporarily, as she recovers from the space journey.
Part of her still longs for Luck, and for the life that she threw away for one night of passion with him, but as she grows stronger and bonds with the tough Perpétue and sweet Miyole, she begins to see how her life can be shaped for the better. She begins to learn piloting and going on runs to haul cargo with Perpétue, educating herself in ways that she never would have had the opportunity to do on the Parastrata.
However, tragedy strikes, as Perpétue is killed in a storm, and with no options but to find her aunt, Ava and Miyole set off for Mumbai. As the two girls travel together, Ava realizes that she has to take responsibility for Miyole, as Perpétue took responsibility for her. Their new life is darkened by Perpétue’s death, and Ava is unsure of what to do.
Ava is more clever than she thinks, and as they try to move on with their lives, with the help of a new friend, Rushil, Ava learns that she has reserves of strength and intelligence that will get her through her journey.
Unfortunately, the past does have a way of catching up with everyone, and Ava learns secrets about her heritage — and about what might have happened to Luck — that threaten to unravel everything she has fought so hard to hold on to.
Alexandra Duncan’s world building is immense, and the writing is beautiful. She engages the reader with jargon that is a bit unwieldy at times, but does lend itself to the voice of the story. Ava’s character is relatable, but flawed, making her more than just a typical protagonist who seems to have everything in order. Though Ava’s world in space and the rules that govern it are pseudo-Victorian, the life she encounters while on Earth reflects more contemporary mores, and makes the story more accessible to readers, especially ones that are unfamiliar with sci-fi. I do wish the history of why Ava’s world in space is set the way it is was more readily apparent (it is hinted at in the latter half of the novel), but since novel already hits 500+ pages, I can understand why there is not more backstory. The pacing of the second part of the novel is more rapid than the first half, and a good juxtaposition to show the differences between space life and Earth life.
Ava and Luck have a few romantic scenes, especially the moments when they’re swimming on Æther, but I enjoyed the relationship Ava has with Rushil more. He’s shown more as her equal than her superior, and their interactions carry more weight to them as Ava tries to figure out what to do in her new life. I also very much appreciated how the female friendships are portrayed in Ava’s world. Though her life in space is much more male-centered than her life on Earth, there is a history that is referred to throughout the novel with female characters and stories taking a firm place in Ava’s heritage.
The connections Ava makes with the other female characters, especially with Perpétue and Miyole, are so important to her character growth, and give the story firm footing.
The silver screen would be the best place for Salvage, where the space opera elements could blaze to life! The overall, the world-building definitely had a Firefly/Serenity feel to them, but with a unique quality.
I would cast Naomi Scott as Ava. Known for her roles in Terra Nova, where she plays Maddy Shannon, another girl thrown into a life far different from her the one she knows, Lemonade Mouth, and soon to be seen in The Martian, she would bring Ava’s sensitivity and resilience to life. For Miyole, Quvenzhané Wallis would definitely fit the bill. She’s shown her acting chops in Beasts of the Southern Wild, 12 Years a Slave, and Annie, and she would shine as Miyole! For Perpétue, I’d cast the one and only Gina Torres (Firefly, Suits, Hannibal). Perpétue and Zoë Washburne share a lot of similar character traits, and Gina Torres is truly great in any role! Rounding out the list, I’d put Manish Dayal (The One-Hundred Foot Journey, 90210) into the role of the sweet and sincere Rushil. His role on Switched at Birth showed he can easily win over the audience with his sincerity and heart!
Content Note: There is some sex, language and violence in this teen book though not excessive.
“You had me at hello.”
“In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed.
You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
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