New Perfume Review Olibere Savannah’s Heart- Blixen’s Heart

The idea of visiting Africa is one of those bucket list items I have yet to cross off. Ever since seeing Born Free in 1966 the idea of the wide-open spaces of Africa have held my fascination. Alas it seems my experience will remain through documentaries and writings. Like many one of the most vivid descriptions comes from Karen Blixen’s book “Out of Africa” which should not be confused with the movie of the same name. The movie focused on Ms. Blixen’s romantic entanglements against an African backdrop. The book tells of the day-to-day lessons she learned while operating a coffee plantation in Kenya. The stories related there have an authenticity of someone who lived there while trying to understand that which was surrounding her. The new perfume Olibere Savannah’s Heart reminded me of the book.

Marjorie Olibere

Marjorie Olibere began her fragrance brand in spring 2015 with five releases. I’ve only recently spent some time with those early releases. My favorite of those was perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour’s Balinesque. A mixture of spice, bamboo, ocean, flowers, and woods. It is a fast-moving aquatic Oriental. Mme Olibere showed within the debut collection her desire to give her creative team a lot of freedom. When it works there is much to admire and when it doesn’t quite come together it is a noble attempt to not be like everything else.

Luca Maffei

For Savannah’s Heart Mme Olibere collaborates with perfumer Luca Maffei. Sig. Maffei forms a fragrance which captures the way my imagination thinks the coffee plantation from “Out of Africa” smells like.

Savannah’s Heart opens on a strong combination of labdanum through which rhubarb provides an equally strong contrast. The rhubarb comes off as slightly sour and less earthy than in other applications. That acerbic nature sets the stage for the focal note of Savannah’s Heart, Arabica coffee Jungle Essence. I have spoken in the past about the supercritical fluid extraction technique used by Mane for their Jungle Essence raw materials. In this case it is like a laser cut version of coffee. Strong, slightly oily, a bit sour, and very rich. To add an even sharper perspective Sig. Maffei surrounds it with Norlimabnol. The dry woody aromachemical lifts up the coffee while making it more diffuse. It rests on a sandalwood and vanilla foundation. Both provide some alternative to the sour facets which had preceded them.

Savannah’s Heart has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I applaud Mme Olibere and Sig. Maffei for finding a unique take on the African experience that it could have easily been called Blixen’s Heart too.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Olibere.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Vilhelm Basilico & Fellini- Summertime Fun with Fellini

There are many perfume brands which use artists’ histories as a jumping off point to create perfume. There are more than a few who do it in a way where the connection to the past is more PR than perfume. One brand which has done an excellent job of turning these stories into fragrance is Vilhelm Parfumerie. Owner-creative director Jan Ahlgren seems to have a passion about classic film and the people who made those movies. For the latest release, Basilico & Fellini, he looks to a tidbit about the legendary director Federico Fellini.

Federico Fellini cooking pasta

The maybe true factoid cited by Mr. Ahlgren is that Sig. Fellini “requested extra basil with his meals for its aphrodisiac effect.” Some of what makes it more rumor than fact is a story written by Germaine Greer for The Guardian in 2010. In her writing about her visiting the set and spending time with Sig. Fellini during his filming of “Casanova” she speaks of the first night he visited her. She relates, “I would have made supper, but Federico was even more fussy and valetudinarian than your average Italian man, and insisted on making himself risotto bianco with only a single leaf of basil to flavour it.” That does not sound like a man who was had a strong belief in basil as an aphrodisiac.

Jerome Epinette (l.) and Jan Ahlgren

Working again with perfumer Jerome Epinette, Mr. Ahlgren wanted to create a green perfume of seduction. In some ways that sounds like a contradiction in terms considering that many green notes carry more than a little bite to them. With Basilico & Fellini three separate duets throughout the development result in a sensual green fragrance.

Basil as a focal point had me thinking of earthy herbal types of accords. What has made many of the Vilhelm releases so enjoyable is Mr. Ahlgren and M. Epinette like to color outside the lines of those expectations. There is basil right from the moment you spray it on. What is surprising is the way it stays at a kind of lush state. The ingredient M. Epinette uses for this effect is dragon fruit. Dragon fruit when you eat it is sort of bland along the lines of a kiwi. As an essential oil it also provides little strong presence. Instead it modulates the basil from getting so in control you would smell nothing else. It also provides a nuanced sweetness, too. As much as I like the opening the heart pairing of green fig and violet is what really pulled me in. The creamy green fig supported by violet is fantastic, it arises from trailing a tiny amount of the basil along with it before becoming violet and fig alone. The base is vetiver and what is described as “green hay”. Which might be as simple as vetiver lending some of its grassiness to coumarin but it seems like there is also something else besides those familiar notes. Because the hay does seem less dried out than it normally appears.

Basilico & Fellini has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

I tested Basilico & Fellini on some very warm days and it was delightful under those conditions. This is another excellent addition to the Vilhelm Parfumerie collection. One which promises some hot fun in the summertime.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Vilhelm Parfumerie.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Wonder Woman

I have taken some time to comment on the new movie “Wonder Woman” here because I was waiting for a couple of things to happen before I wrote about it. Now that they have occurred it will allow me to make a more accurate assessment of why this movie stands out within the superhero genre of movie.

The movies of DC characters are often horrible creative failures because the people handling the heroes don’t understand what makes them popular within pop culture. Christopher Nolan understood Batman in his trio of movies. That’s where the list of DC successes ends. Since those Batman movies Zach Snyder has been put in charge of creating a DC Cinematic Universe as rich as the Marvel version. In the first few movies under his supervision he has decided on making dark gritty versions of the iconic heroes. It is a failure because he is giving way to what a comic fanboy wants but not the general public. The opposite of what Marvel does which is to always make sure their heroes embrace a neophyte. My first view of Wonder Woman, as played by actress Gal Gadot, was in Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. She was one of two things I walked out of that movie wanting to see more of. Except there was a voice in the back of my head saying, “Snyder is going to turn her into a nihilistic ninja”. Even in her scant screen time in her debut her sense of justice shone through so there was some hope. It turns out director Patty Jenkins not only understands her heroine she also understands what a woman deals with in a world of men which makes “Wonder Woman” stand apart.

Patty Jenkins

Ms. Jenkins uses Wonder Woman’s immortality as a way of setting her story in World War I-era Europe. The first part of the movie shows Diana from child to warrior. Eventually the war pierces the shield around the amazon island Themyscira. American spy Steve Trevor, played by Chris Pine, informs them of what is happening in the world. Diana realizes this is the mission she was born for and leaves with Steve to join the world and the battle. The next part of the movie is how Diana inserts herself into a world where women are not seen as equal. Through her actions and her presence, she never is allowed to dumb herself down. Ms. Jenkins keeps it all flowing by making the men seem a little smaller than Diana throughout. Through the entire movie Diana is what a heroine is defined by, caring for the less able, using your power for good, and trying to make right what is wrong. Ms. Jenkins and Ms. Gadot have provided a heroine without any of the grittiness so prevalent in the other DC movies.

Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot)

Which is why I think it has been the most successful DC film in this era of the Extended Universe in the US. Ms. Gadot feels like she can be the linchpin which holds the DC Universe together in the same way Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Iron Man has done for the Marvel movies. I think Ms. Jenkins should be given a seat at the table as Wonder Woman is used in things like the upcoming Justice League movie so she is not tarnished with a coating of grit. It would be a huge mistake for another reason.

By the third weekend of Wonder Woman’s release there were as many women going to see it as men. Gender parity for superhero movies never happens. Even the latest Star Wars with another great heroine was unable to manage gender parity in the theatre. You have a whole new audience who has been invited into the DC Universe by Ms. Jenkins and Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman is not like the other movies so far. If they take her darker for Justice League they will burn much of the good will they just earned. It seems like they are going to make her the equal of Ben Affleck’s Batman in Justice League and that would be a very wise move; if she stays the positive heroine we just learned to love.

Mr. Snyder and DC have shown an unerring attempt to fumble the ball which is why I am hoping he might hand some of the load to Ms. Jenkins because I think she understands what moviegoers want. The box office and the audience supports that conclusion.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Divine L’Homme Sage- The Wise Man of Perfume

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I don’t remember which store it was in New York I tried Divine L’Homme Sage for the first time. I feel like it was either Henri Bendel or Takashimaya but I don’t know with any certainty. What I do remember was I mentioned I liked spices and immortelle. The sales associate handed me a bottle from a brand I had never heard of prior to that day. Once I had some L’Homme Sage on a wrist; by the time I went to sleep I knew I would be buying a bottle. That would begin my discovery of this independent perfume brand from France.

Yvon Mouchel

Divine was begun in 1986 by owner-creative director Yvon Mouchel. Based in the town of Dinard in Brittany M. Mouchel would enlist a fellow artist from the same region; perfumer Yann Vasnier. M. Mouchel would give M. Vasnier his first brief for the debut of the brand with the self-named Divine. For seventeen years that was it. M. Mouchel believes “A great perfume is a work of art” and so it seemed he had accomplished his goal. Somewhere during those years, he decided there was more he had to say. Starting in 2003 he reunited with M. Vasnier and would produce nine new Divine releases until 2014.  

It was that day in New York which brought me to the Divine story somewhat in the middle. L’Homme Sage was the overall fifth release; coming out in 2005. Because of that I had no sense of a brand aesthetic I just knew this particular one appealed to me. As I would come to experience the rest of the collection I would come to realize this was as much a part of M. Mouchel’s vision as the other ones were.

Yann Vasnier

If you read the name L’Homme Sage and are expecting clary sage to be found in the perfume you will be disappointed. L’Homme Sage refers to the “wise man” with sage being the wise part of the name. The perfume is a classy spicy Oriental with the formation of three distinct accords.

L’Homme Sage opens with mandarin coated in syrup. The syrup is provided by lychee. It diffuses the citrus allowing for cardamom and saffron the opportunity to find some space to form a spicy sweet citrus top accord. A transitional use of immortelle bridges the top accord to the heart of patchouli, balsam, and incense. This forms a resinous heart accord which provides warmth. The base is cedar and guaiac combined with cistus and styrax which continues the warmth. The final ingredient it the subtle bite of oakmoss.

L’Homme Sage has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

The point of this column is to shine the light on some great brands which are still out there but do not keep up a consistent release rate. M. Mouchel very much lives the credo that his perfumes should be a “work of art”. That means they do not arrive on a timetable but on a creative schedule. That is the brand aesthetic which can be discovered if you try any of the Divine perfumes.

L’Homme Sage has always been a part of my perfume rotation because it is exactly what I look for.

Disclosure: this review was based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Thierry Mugler Aura- Romancing the Millennial

Thierry Mugler fragrances have a dear place in my fragrance library. A*Men and many of the outstanding flankers, the proto gourmand Angel, and the proto Cologne Nouveau Thierry Mugler Cologne. Any single brand which claims these kind of innovations is one to look for as the new generation of fragrance buyers look for one of the fragrances which might define them. The answer from this brand is the new pillar perfume Thierry Mugler Aura.

When I saw the bottle for the first time I was reminded of the emerald they were searching for in the 1984 movie “Romancing the Stone”. You can see them side-by-side above. Longtime Thierry Mugler fragrance creative director Pierre Aulas assembled a team of Firmenich perfumers; Daphne Bugey, Amandine Clerc-Marie, Christophe Raynaud, and Marie Salamagne.

Pierre Aulas

Aura comes off as a bit of an experimental fragrance as two Firmenich exclusive materials are used one called Wolfwood and the other given a code name of Tiger Liana. Wolfwood has little information available beyond it is a woody aromachemical. Tiger Liana on the other hand sounds much more interesting. According to Firmenich it is extracted from the root of an unidentified Chinese medicinal root. It is described as smelling “botanical, animalic, and smoky”. I was going to have to figure out what these new ingredients to me were adding in the spaces between the other listed notes I know.

I have mentioned in the past that most of the brands have made an early determination that millennials want a light floral gourmand. The Aura creative team provides exactly that. What makes it stand out is the inclusion of the new materials. I will be guessing what exactly they bring to the overall experience but they have a profound effect.

The first thing I notice is a slightly cleaned-up orange blossom. The indoles are kept to a level such that they are a background hum underneath the transparent floral quality. What is paired with it at first is a tart rhubarb. This rhubarb accentuates the green tinted citrus nature and the sulfurous quality, like the indoles, are pushed far to the background. Then a humid green note intersperses itself; based on the description I am guessing this is the Tiger Liana. It smells like damp green foliage, at first, in a good way as it adds some weight to a fragrance which has been very light to this point. Then beneath the green the promised animalic and smokiness is also simmering beneath it all right next to the indoles and sulfur. It is a clever way to add in a deep set of notes to provide detail without giving them the room to be more pervasive. The smokiness gets more pronounced which I think might be the Wolfwood. It could be how Tiger Liana develops too. A haze of smoke is what leads to the base of a rich opaque vanilla on a woody base. It is a comforting finish.

Aura has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

I must give M. Aulas and the team of perfumers credit they have made a perfume that is indelibly Thierry Mugler that has a great opportunity of romancing the millennials to the brand.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Thierry Mugler.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Bogue Profumo MEM- Words Fail Me

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Occasionally, I am exposed to a perfume which questions what I believe about fragrance. It comes around and taxes my ability to describe it in words. I also know that others are having very different experiences with the same fragrance. There are some reasons which I think this is happening and I wonder whether it is deliberate or indicative of something else. I have spent a lot of time with Bogue Profumo MEM and I will try to describe my experience with it.

The independent perfumer behind Bogue Profumo is Antonio Gardoni. Sig. Gardoni has come to perfumery from a self-taught perspective. It has allowed him to make his own set of principles of composition which hew only to his artistic vision. Maai was his most successful fragrance because he started with a vintage aesthetic which he transformed into something dramatically different. One of the things that is different about MEM is it seems he started with a well-known ingredient, lavender, and again wanted to transform the recognizable into something unique. Sig. Gardoni was also going to feature uncommon sources of lavender from different isolates and species. He says in the description of MEM there are four lavenders in MEM. The one that appears first is the most interesting and is part of the most fascinating part of the development of MEM. The others end up becoming foils for other stronger statements but more in support than as the focal point. I’m going to describe my experience with MEM and then follow that with some mentions of other reviews and what I think it says about MEM when taken together.

Antonio Gardoni

I like lavender but as I have smelled it more and more I really enjoy a source of lavender which accentuates the herbal nature over the air freshener character. The source of lavender at the beginning of MEM is wonderful as it is not only herbal but also earthy. It conjures up a vision of sprigs of purple covered in dark topsoil. Then fascinatingly Sig. Gardoni decides to give it a beer as it becomes malted which matches the earthiness of the lavender. I kept thinking during these early stages this was some kind of craft lavender summer ale. There are hints of citrus on the periphery of the early moments but it is this unique lavender which carries the day. Which makes the transition into the floral heart so disappointing is it becomes an overwhelming bouquet of everything but lavender. If there was something about the lavender used here it was subsumed by rose, muguet, jasmine, and ylang-ylang. Then it switches to a truly animalic base of civet and musk which again swamps the lavender. It was frustrating for me because I could detect it but it was like it was banging on the glass trying to get in.

MEM has 16-18 hour longevity and average sillage.

I recommend two other reviews to read and I am going to mention some of what they wrote to make a larger point about MEM. In Kafkaesque’s review Kafka also mentions the early going reminding Kafka of a summer ale. Kafka also gets a much subtler development throughout the hours. Kafka corresponded with Sig. Gardoni and he claimed there are 86 ingredients in MEM.

Lauryn Beer reviewed MEM for CaFleureBon she experienced all the nuance of the different lavenders Sig. Gardoni employed comparing it favorably to one of the baseline lavenders, Guerlain Jicky. These are two reviewers in whom I respect their views. So why the difference? I have a hypothesis.

Also in the Kafkaesque review, it was mentioned Sig. Gardoni sent out an early version of MEM to some. Kafka thought its evolution into the current version was for the better. Based on Kafka’s words it sounded like it was a simpler version which set out to display the different lavenders more distinctly. There is a habit of the most artistic independent perfumers not to know when to stop tinkering. There can be a moment when they keep adding to the basic concept until they hit 86 ingredients. For me, in the case of MEM, that was probably fifty or sixty too many. Especially because the early moments are amazing only to get lost as the olfactory traffic jam builds up.

I think MEM is an almost fascinating Rohrshach test of a perfume because in all of the online reviews no two people have described it the same way with the only overlap happening in the early stages. In the end, I want to embrace MEM but at this moment my admiration and my words fail me.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Clean Air & Coconut Water- Right Time, Right Season

There are times that new perfume samples have the unfortunate timing of arriving at the wrong time for me to appreciate them. This was what happened when I received the Clean Eau Fraiche collection at the beginning of March. They were meant to be easy-to-wear fragrances meant for warmer weather. Except when they got to me it was thirty degrees out. The other thing was five of the six were overused tropes; just the names give you that idea: Rain & Pear, Skin & Vanilla along with an entire linen cabinet of Fresh Laundry & Lavender, Warm Cotton & Mandarin, and Cool Cotton & Grapefruit. These were all comprised of the usual suspects of the laundry musks matched with fruit. There was one which stood out for being different than these. I told myself I would give it a try once the weather got warmer. This time events allowed for me to be reminded of it while the mercury soared above ninety degrees. Wearing Air & Coconut Water in the past couple of weeks turned out to be just what I needed to enjoy it.

Claude Dir

What I found interesting about this fragrance composed by perfumer Claude Dir was the press release mentioned they wanted the air to be “mountain air” while the coconut water is evocative of the beach. What M. Dir manages to do is to marry a top accord of sparkly citrus to a beachy floral heart before heading up into the mountains for a deep breath of fresh air. It all surprisingly comes together nicely.

Air & Coconut Water opens on a sunbeam of bergamot and lemon it is typically bright and lively. There is a thready green pulse courtesy of blackcurrant buds but it is flooded by the citrus. The coconut water appears and it is that very beachy note of coconut made more transparent while retaining some weight due to a humidity that comes along with it. A light freesia freshens up the coconut water. Then we head up into the mountains for a deep breath of fresh musks. These are not the laundry musks as M. Dir combines a few of the different synthetic musks into a very fresh accord. What is very nice is tonka bean is also present to add in the hay-like effect of the dried grass. Instead of just being air instead it is a breath of the grass as well.

Air & Coconut Water has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

They say timing is everything. For Air & Coconut Water returning to it at the end of June turned out to be the right time and the right season to appreciate it.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Clean.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Calvin Klein Obsessed for Men- A New Obsession?

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When I’m asked about where my interest in writing about perfume began one of the perfumes which launched my curiosity is Calvin Klein Obsession for Men. It was what I considered to be my first “grown-up” perfume. It was also the first step to discovering these other perfumes from Europe which also smelled like this. In the thirty years since I bought my first bottle I am now on my third bottle as I still find it deeply satisfying. I’ve always felt it was a generational fragrance for the men of a specific time. It was why I was very interested in the new releases from Calvin Klein; Obsessed for Women and Obsessed for Men. I was wondering if these might become the same kind of defining fragrance for this generation.

Raf Simons

One thing I learned from my press package is Calvin Klein very much wanted to make sure the connections were obvious. There are so many callbacks to the original pair of Obsessions I cynically wondered why not call it Obsession 2 and be done with it. This even includes the advertising campaign where they are recycling photos shot for a 1993 advertising effort for Obsession.

Obsession for Men Ad from 1993 featuring Kate Moss as photogrpahed by Mario Sorrenti

That campaign was to send model Kate Moss and her then boyfriend Mario Sorrenti alone to a secluded house in the Virgin Islands where just the two of them spent 10 days together while Mr. Sorrenti photographed Ms. Moss. It led to a set of provocative pictures of Ms. Moss which probably sent sales soaring.

Obsessed for Men Ad from 2017 featuring Mario Sorrenti as photographed by Kate Moss

Raf Simons who creatively oversaw the new perfumes went back through the photo files from that effort. What he saw was an opportunity to connect Obsession to Obsessed visually while also indicating something new. For Obsessed for Men Mr. Simons uses pictures of Mr. Sorrenti as shot by Ms. Moss in the inevitable turnabout which would have to happen over 10 days together.

Ilias Erminidis

Mr. Simons also wanted what he described as a role reversal in the two Obsessed fragrances. So, for Obsessed for Men he asked perfumers Christophe Raynaud and Ilias Erminidis for this as their brief. In Mr. Simons estimation, he sees vanilla as an ingredient which exhibits a “feminine melodiousness” which makes it the heart of Obsessed for Men.

Christophe Raynaud

The perfumers take that vanilla and put it in a wooden box made up of cedar and ambox. Those intensely woody notes have the effect of ameliorating much of the warm sweetness. The vanilla has much less presence than it normally does and Obsessed for Men really is much more an ambrox fragrance with some cedar and vanilla along for the ride.

Obsessed for Men has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

I am not the generation who will gravitate to Obsessed for Men. I have plenty of other ambrox heavy fragrances this doesn’t stand out sufficiently from those. I am more interested to see if there are twentysomething men who will be shopping and, like I did in 1986, stop in their tracks because Obsessed for Men is the scent of how they want to smell. Women’s Wear Daily is estimating upwards of $50 million in retail sales this year, for the pair. If that is prescient then Obsessed for Men will be a new Obsession for a new generation.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Calvin Klein.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Nobile 1942 1001- Luca’s Arabian Night

When it comes to inspiration for perfumes Scheherazade and the Arabian Nights has probably inspired as many perfumes as there were tales told in the story. If fragrances are tales told by the creative team then especially in the Oriental genre every perfumer should have the opportunity to enthrall a wearer for one night. Perfumer Luca Maffei takes his turn with Nobile 1942 1001.

One of the things I have admired about the Nobile 1942 creative team of Massimo Nobile and Stefania Giannino is since 2014 they have taken the brand in a new direction. It mainly consists of taking the well-known fragrance forms and giving them a contemporary shine. It has been an up and down effort but when there have been ups they have been very good. Working with Sig. Maffei they decided on a soft Oriental theme for 1001.

Luca Maffei

One of their inspirations was the written word. Sig. Maffei includes a papyrus focal point upon which he writes in notes of spices, flowers, and woods. The modern part of this is many Orientals take as part of their being to carry an intensity. 1001 is constructed to be a compelling soft-spoken voice of a storyteller inviting you near enough to hear.

A soft whisper of spices from a piquant susurrus. Ginger, cardamom, pink pepper, and saffron are like offerings given on an altar as each finds a place in the top accord. The watery green woodiness of papyrus arrives next. Sig. Maffei then uses the slightly spicy woody quality of turmeric along with rose to form the place from which the tale is being told along with the page it is written on. It is an abstraction of a scroll. The more traditional components of Orientals are in the base. Sandalwood, amber, vanilla, and musk end 1001 in a familiar place; which is where all well-told tales should conclude.

1001 has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I think the softness of 1001 turns it into a rare office friendly Oriental. By choosing to go very soft it doesn’t skimp on the most important characteristics of the genre. Instead it allows Sig. Maffei to tell his tale of an Arabian Night with a beautiful whisper.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I purchased.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley

I have spent many days on the beach lost in adventure among the stars. In the summer one of the genres I enjoy reading is one called “space opera”. It is an easy phrase to decode because it derives from “soap opera”. It contains some of the melodramatic elements of soaps but mostly it is a fast-moving story of heroes and villains in spaceships. In the early days that was all there was to the genre. The novels of E.E. Doc Smith, both the Skylark and Lensmen series, were just that. As the modern generation of science fiction authors wanted to pay homage to the space opera they also had more to say about society within the stories; Frank Herbert’s Dune series and Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep are good examples. Science fiction is now undergoing another sea change as authors who began their career writing online have expanded into the traditional print world. One of those authors Kameron Hurley has been one I’ve particularly enjoyed because she brings a great energy to her writing. Her two previous series Bel Dame Apocrypha and Worldbreaker Saga are examples. For this year she has released a stand-alone space opera, The Stars are Legion.

The best writers in science fiction love worldbuilding. I suspect through the process it also reveals a story to them. The worlds built by Ms. Hurley in her novel are in motion. They are world ships, taken together called The Legion, who have been traveling a very long time. so long that the survival of the ships and how they are kept together is the world in which we find our twin heroines Zan and Jayd.

Kameron Hurley

Zan wakes up from a coma with most of her memory missing. Jayd arrives to help fill in the gaps. She is told her loss of memory was caused by her mission to board the ship Mokshi. She is given the impression she has gone on this mission multiple times and has been the only survivor each time. The carrot they use to get her to go back; her memories are there on Mokshi. As she prepares for another run she realizes Jayd was a part of her life giving her another reason to want to succeed.

Again, she fails in boarding Mokshi and when she returns is cast into the center of the ship she is on along with all the other trash. Jayd is married off to one of the ruling warlords. The rest of the book is Zan crawling her way up through each successive level full of threats, including a real bug-eyed monster, at one point. Jayd engages in a Game of Thrones political adventure as she learns where the power in The Legion is centered and how to manipulate it. A different type of crawling through levels with different dangers but no less fascinating. By the end both women will discover the truth of what needs to happen. The suspense is whether they can be reunited to accomplish it.

Ms. Hurley has laid out a world where the decisions of Zan and Jayd propel the story to a climax of satisfying proportions. Which is exactly what I want while sitting in my beach chair.

Mark Behnke