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Escaping Exodus

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Escaping Exodus is a story of a young woman named Seske Kaleigh, heir to the command of a biological, city-size starship carved up from the insides of a spacefaring beast. Her clan has just now culled their latest ship and the workers are busy stripping down the bonework for building materials, rerouting the circulatory system for mass transit, and preparing the cavernous creature for the onslaught of the general populous still in stasis. It’s all a part of the cycle her clan had instituted centuries ago—excavate the new beast, expand into its barely-living carcass, extinguish its resources over the course of a decade, then escape in a highly coordinated exodus back into stasis until they cull the next beast from the diminishing herd.

And of course there wouldn’t be much of a story if things didn’t go terribly, terribly wrong.

Escaping Exodus is scheduled to be in readers’ orbit Summer 2019.

300 pages, Paperback

First published October 15, 2019

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About the author

Nicky Drayden

41 books802 followers
Nicky Drayden is a Systems Analyst who dabbles in prose when she’s not buried in code. She resides in Austin, Texas where being weird is highly encouraged, if not required.

Sign up for my newsletter for updates, contests, swag, and more... http://www.nickydrayden.com/newslette...

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5 stars
363 (23%)
4 stars
669 (42%)
3 stars
407 (25%)
2 stars
106 (6%)
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25 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 475 reviews
Profile Image for Nicky Drayden.
Author 41 books802 followers
Want to read
November 8, 2019
I'm so excited for y'all to read this book! This one really took me down a rabbit hole of weirdness.

"An Afrofuturist love story, set inside a giant space-creature, about two women of different castes...top-notch worldbuilding and sharp characterization." - Kirkus Reviews

Profile Image for Bookishrealm.
1,839 reviews4,674 followers
October 7, 2020
This was a hell of a ride. I don't even truly know where to begin with my review because honestly this was my first dive into this intense of a sci-fi book. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I definitely thought that this was a great read. Trigger Warnings: body horror, violence, death, slavery .

Escaping Exodus focuses on this matriarchal alien (this is the best way I know how to describe them without really giving away too much) society that inhabits a beast/huge creature that travels through space. It's written in dual perspective and the reader gets the perspective of Seska (the heir to the throne) as well as Adalla (beast worker). Each travels on this journey of self-discovery/identity all in hopes of providing the best for their community. Two of my favorite aspects of this book were the plot development and the writing. Seska and Adalla were fascinating characters that were so distinctively different (this book has a sapphic romance as well as representation of polyamourous relationships). I have trouble with books with multiple perspectives some times because the voices end up blending together and sounding similar; however, in the case of this book I must admit that Drayden did a fabulous job fleshing out these two characters and their journeys and experiences. It was so amazing to watch two women who were so close and had essentially built this bond and relationship go in two different directions based on their experiences in the community. Seska was blind to the true intentions of the society while Adalla learned the gruesome facts and treatment that some individuals continued to experience at the expense of making the upper class feel comfortable. In fact, Drayden utilizes these two characters to discuss a few social issues that impact our world. And while (as stated by other reviewers) some of the social issues were too transparent to be set in a SF world, I do think that Drayden still created a unique story while still addressing modern social issues.

In addition, Drayden's writing was phenomenal. I've read a few SF things before but most of them have been small. Quite honestly, I find myself intimidated by the genre because I never feel like I would get the technicalities of the worlds in which these stories exist. However, to me, Escaping Exodus felt accessible. I wasn't intimated by the language or the world building or the intricacies of how this society functioned. It all made sense. Drayden wrote with such descriptive language that I literally felt immersed in every scene that I read. There was also this sense of humor that Drayden was able to incorporate in the text that literally made me laugh out loud during certain scenes. It was so good that I anticipated even checking out some of her other works.

One thing that did prevent me from giving this book a full five stars was the ending. The time jumps just seemed a little rushed. The beginning of the book felt evenly paced, but when we got the end of the book it felt like Drayden felt the need to wrap things up too quickly. It left one specific character one-dimensional which was so unfortunate because I wanted to know more about them. Other than that, I enjoyed this book and I'm really looking forward to seeing what exactly is going to happen with the second book in the series.
Profile Image for Starlah.
393 reviews1,597 followers
February 15, 2021
4.5 stars

This was so, so amazing! And so close to being a full 5 stars for me. This is an incredible, unique, queer, sci-fi story that I could not get enough of. Which is why I was a little sad that the ending was so rushed. There was so much going on throughout the book and it did such a good job building everything up to the very end, just for it to wrap up way too quickly. It really dropped the ball on one of my favorite characters and overall was just not a satisfying ending. But I still loved this book so much and am looking forward to more from Nicky Drayden.
Profile Image for K.J. Charles.
Author 57 books7,888 followers
October 26, 2019
I have previously said there is no weird-ass plot turn Nicky Drayden won't take. I would like to underline that and maybe add some stars in various colours of highlighter pen.

This is a spectacularly bizarre concept, of spacegoing societies living inside giant interstellar beasts, in the body cavities. It's quite staggeringly biological, full of fluids and sphincters and organs in a way that's quite overwhelming at points. There is...ooze. Alien jizz. It's sticky.

The society is matriarchal and sidelines men, and entirely made up of people of colour. (There are other beast-using societies that are made up differently, we find out.) This matriarchy doesn't lead to wisdom or kindness, though, and the pressure of life in a beast warps the society in all sorts of weird ways, including family structures and an unforgiving attitude to failure.

This book is doing so much at once. It's about human callousness and carelessness to the world we depend on for life, and privilege and in-groups and bigotry. It's very queer--trans characters, playing with gender roles, and the main pairing is f/f--and extremely focused on social injustice and class war. I loved all of that--the world is a complicated place and all these things coexist in reality. It did mean that some plot strands felt like they needed more development space, particularly in the last third, which felt a bit rushed. There's also a bit of an issue in that one of the MCs is highly privileged and needs her eyes opened to injustice to the point where I found it extremely hard to see what the working-class MC saw in her, and also rooted for the unacknowledged sister trying to overthrow her. Seske works to redeem herself, and (a rare event with privileged central characters) comes to the logical conclusion which is something, but I never felt she deserved her fantastic love interest Adalla, a hardened beast-worker and revolutionary who I loved.

A bizarre, engrossing, wildly imaginative and deeply physical reading experience, with lots to chew on and some impressive body horror.
Profile Image for Rachel (TheShadesofOrange).
2,028 reviews2,809 followers
December 31, 2020
4.5 Stars
This was one of those wonderful reading experiences when I picked up a book on a whim, with very few preconceived ideas, and absolutely fell in love with the story. The premise reminded me of the novel, The Stars are Legion, but this was honestly so much better executed.

Given the biological nature of the world, there were some rather gross scenes that I personally enjoyed, but might turn off more squeemish readers. The ending wrapped up the story a little too quickly for my tastes, but otherwise I loved everything else about this novel. 

The story focuses heavily around politics and interpersonal relationships with the inclusion of several forms of diverse representation. Within this novel, there are people of colour with queer sexual orientations living with plural family structures. I loved that the story addressed so many powerful themes, from life issues to gender equality, in complex and thoughtful ways. 

This was my first time reading Nicky Drayden’s work, but it certainly won’t be the last! I’m very interested to check out her backlist novels. I suspect this novel won’t be for everyone, but it certainly was for me. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a weird, diverse space opera with an engaging plot and well developed characters. 
Profile Image for Acqua.
536 reviews188 followers
August 30, 2020
A biopunk horror generation ship sci-fi novel with a main f/f relationship between two black girls, a strong and well-thought-out environmentalist message, really well written body horror, and, uh, plot-relevant tentacle sex.

I loved what it had to say and what it was trying to achieve, but some things - especially in the ending - just didn't end up working for me. I've said this before about Nicky Drayden's books, but there's always something about the pacing, about the transition from one scene to the next, that just doesn't flow as well as it should. The result is a stilted, odd-paced book. Here, the first 70% was interesting, if somewhat slow moving; then the book both gained steam and completely lost me. Things were happening too quickly, plotlines that were set up as a big deal were suddenly abandoned with very little consequence or even discussion, plot threads were left floating... like tentacles in empty space, I guess.

And it's a shame, because this had so much potential. Escaping Exodus is set in a giant, dying space-faring cephalopod-like beast, and not only it has all the wonderful biological horror you can expect from this kind of setting, there are also discussions about classism and environmentalism - the dying beast situation is great as a metaphor for Earth and climate change - and how the two are tied; not enough books approach environmental justice even when talking about the consequences that a looming catastrophe of this scale has on people's behavior. I also highlighted a good portion of one of Seske's chapters, because I found it a realistic portrayal of what it's like to be a young person in this situation and feeling disappointed by the adults around you. As far as this aspect goes, I loved how the dying beast situation was handled in the end, with a focus on
However, even this aspect of the novel felt forced. This book felt as if it set out with the idea of having this message, of ending in this specific way, and didn't give as much thought to the journey: the characters were led to that point as if they were marionettes, instead of getting there themselves.

And it couldn't have felt any other way, not when the characters are so flat. I finished the book realizing that I still knew nothing about the two main characters, rich, privileged Seske and beastworker Adala, apart from them being young teens and... loving each other? At times? It's really messy, and I might have appreciated that more, if not for the fact that a lot of things in here didn't have the space and time to grow.

Don't get me wrong, there's still a lot to love about Escaping Exodus. I might have been annoyed that this book, after deciding that making sense was overrated, also deliberated that consistency was for the weak, but I thought the worldbuilding was amazing. I love reading about world-ships, and the book goes into enough detail about the anatomy to make me want to know more (so, a primary heart, branchial hearts and tentacles, like cephalopods? But it has bones? Are those tentacles or arms or both? I have questions) and the society that inhabits it was just as fascinating. In Escaping Exodus, polyamory isn't just accepted, it's expected, and just as the society has many layers and rigidly assigned roles, so do people in the family; one can see both where these things came from and why they're damaging or stifling to many people. It's a matriarchy, which was interesting to see as well. I did like that it talked about what happens to trans people in these circumstances, but I didn't love how the major trans character basically paid the price for what happened in a way that the cis main characters didn't.

If I had to describe this in a few words as a tl;dr, I would say that Escaping Exodus feels as if The Stars Are Legion and An Unkindness of Ghosts had a charmingly messy child that takes itself far less seriously than either of them. It reminded me of both, but it's entirely its own, very weird thing. Not my favorite book by this author, and it had enough material in it that to properly address it I think it should have been a duology, but worth reading nonetheless.

Edit: turns out it is a duology! I still think this first installment should have been longer, but considering this is not a standalone some of the things I said a while ago might not apply anymore; I'm so glad to hear this.
Profile Image for Racheal.
1,015 reviews83 followers
February 20, 2020
I loved a lot of the weirdness and originality and delightfully disgusting body horror. It has fabulous world building! The story, which centers on a unique matriarchal society living inside a giant space beast, is quite unlike anything I've read before - there's so much shit and puke and oozing viscera all over the place.

The final third, though, has to be one of the most hair pullingly frustrating things I've read in a long time. It just took such a huge and shockingly swift downturn in quality. Suddenly plot threads were left dangling all over the place, emotional development stalled, and character consistency went out the window (one example is)

Overall I mostly think that the story was too ambitious for the space it had, with too many different competing ideas and none of them properly developed (one example of many is). It really needed at least another 100-200 pages to flesh out the latter part of the story, or alternately, it could have worked well as a solid novella if the focus had been narrowed slightly. Either would have been better than this messy, disjointed ending.

I was also disappointing in the way nothing ever seems to stick; the story consistently insulates the reader from any intense emotions (of which there should be many given the events) and the general brutality of it all. But I wanted to feel all of that. Give me MORE BRUTALITY. I wish she'd pushed it to the max, or that it was categorized as YA so that at least I'd gone in with different expectations.

Anywho. Yeah. I went to bed frustrated and had bad dreams, so I'm just going to stop now before I get even more ranty :/
Profile Image for Bethany (Beautifully Bookish Bethany).
1,978 reviews3,296 followers
February 22, 2022
4.5 stars

Wow, this is one of the weirdest sci-fi books I've read, but it's also fantastic. The main characters are part of matriarchal, polyamorous society that travels through space inside of an enormous, sentient creature. Seske is heir to the seat of leadership and her best friend and first love is from a lower caste and not an option as one of the people she will be expected to court and marry. Meanwhile, their people are struggling to survive, there are political conspiracies, the beast who is their home is not well, and dark secrets lurk beneath the surface of society.

There are a lot of bizarre things that happen in Escaping Exodus, but it's woven into really well-executed world-building and social commentary. Society is run by women and group marriages of 10 people are the norm. But rather than some kind of utopia, we get a world that is heavily stratified by class and gender, and one where there is plenty of oppression to go around. Men have less decision-making power, are often the victims of sexual harassment, and are kept out of activities viewed as unsuitable for them, such as policy making. There is very little opportunity for upward mobility and the lowest castes are even denied names, their only identity being tied to their status or job.

It's a really interesting book and I definitely would continue with the series. Heads up that there are a lot of scenes involving various fluids, either from the creature they live inside or from people. And there are some kind of creepy scenes involving tentacles. But it's really quite innovative!

Profile Image for The Artisan Geek.
445 reviews7,229 followers
December 24, 2019

A huge thank you to Harper Voyager US for gifting me a copy of Escaping Exodus! This is a space opera set in a time in which earth is all but a distant memory. With extrasolar planets still out of reach, the remains of humanity has managed to survive by creating colonies within humongous space beasts, leaving after mining all their resources. The book follows Seske, a girl first in line to the throne of her clan. After having just found a new beast to inhabit, their new home is plagues with violent tremors. She teams up with her best friend Idalla to find out the cause, only to discover the grim truths about the price of life in the void.

This was actually the first space opera I have ever read and I really enjoyed it! The book is written from both the perspective of Seske and Idalla and I liked how distinct their characters were. What really interested me were both the characters and the structure of society. Depending on which class you belong to the value of your life differs, and this was a major driving force of the book. Furthermore the society is matriarchal and I dare say that was a hell of a twist! There aren’t any men in power and lead rather restricted lives. The book definitely gave me a lot of material to think about, so I’m very eager to go over my notes again and write a full review. Overall, I really enjoyed the experience :)

Video review to come!

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Profile Image for Howard.
1,121 reviews68 followers
November 18, 2021
3.25 Stars for Escaping Exodus (audiobook) by Nicky Drayden read by Cherise Boothe and Adenrele Ojo.

I think the premise is interesting but I had some trouble following the world building. I enjoy different points of view in science fiction. This art form really lends itself to exploring these far out ideas. I just wish there was a little more adventure and it was described so I could visualize it better.
Profile Image for Katie Gallagher.
Author 5 books215 followers
October 14, 2019
For other fun bookish stuff, visit my blog!
Thank you to NetGalley and Harper Voyager for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. Escaping Exodus debuts October 15th.

The seemingly acid trip-inspired cover of Escaping Exodus does the words inside justice: this book is unabashedly weird. Drayden chronicles a matriarchal society that has made the innards of a gargantuan, living space beast their home; when one space beast is on the way out health-wise, they literally jump ship (har har) to the next one in the herd. It’s mad, it’s trippy, it’s body horror at times, and it’s the kind of book you really need to experience for yourself.

I inch closer to the pond of cool, debris-ridden slime that rims the sphincter. It pulses, back and forth, back and forth, a putrid-looking pucker of flesh. Adalla sticks both of her hands in the hole and pulls hard, her muscles rippling and bulging. The rim tries to hold tight, even looks like it’s tugging against her, but eventually it gives, and the hole widens just enough for a person to slip through.

And is the book YA? The main characters are certainly the proper age, but I’d say not really; it doesn’t have the tone you’d expect, which I chalk up to the MCs living in such an alien society and feeling so young and brash that they’re completely unrelatable. There were times I had a really hard time buying the decisions of the MCs; for people living in a society that faces the constant threat of extinction, they have no issues throwing caution to the wind at every opportunity.

The pacing of the book was also strange, to say the least. From start to finish action is stuffed together in a kind of madcap jumble, but then threads of story seem to wither away into nothingness, never to be picked up again. I think the blurb for the book is kind of telling: one big infodump followed by the most blah of final hooks:

And of course there wouldn’t be much of a story if things didn’t go terribly, terribly wrong.

Notice how unspecific that is? There’s too much going on in this book to condense the plot into “If X character doesn’t do Y near-impossible thing, then Z terrible consequence will happen!” We’ve got a lesbian princess and subject forbidden love affair, an underclass uprising, people communicating in code by making out, sex with baby space beasts, an obtuse matriarchal and polyamorous family system with like eight moms and a couple dads per child, court intrigue, clone rights, inter-space beast communications, forgotten histories… I could continue if needed. As per usual, the social justice themes were a turn-off for me, but even that kind of got drowned out by all the crazy, constant details. And yet, for a book with so much detailed worldbuilding, I somehow found it hard to picture exactly what was going on in a lot of scenes, I think because the whole book takes an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach.

Basically, Escaping Exodus felt far too ambitious; I would have liked to see more nuance. Nevertheless, many scenes were absolutely riveting, and some bits have really stuck with me. (I read this book back in July.) It’s obvious that this author has tons of potential, so I’m definitely up for reading more of her work.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,248 reviews218 followers
January 21, 2020
A complex detailed book that involves parasitization and exploitation of giant space-dwelling creatures by a far future human culture.

Seske Kaleigh is the heir-apparent to the matriline that leads her people. Her society is in the early stages of colonization of the current "beast", a process that involves massive modification to the beast's physiology, and will cause its death in only a decade or so. But Seske is ignorant of many of the details of the lifecycle of her culture, particularly in that its as cruel to its own people as it is to the beast that they inhabit. We get to see many of those details through her relationship with Adalla, a lower-caste organ worker and what they both discover about their society and the creature they inhabit.

This isn't Moya. It's squelchy and visceral (with lots of viscera to go around) with a detailed alien biosphere that seems designed to provoke feelings of disgust in the reader, particularly including body horror. The sociology here is interesting too, with a default-polygamous matriarchy, but one that has a strict class hierarchy as well.

This felt in a lot of ways like a better plotted version of The Stars Are Legion. That's not to say that it doesn't have issues: the first part of the book sets up a strict social structure that is largely ignored without consequences in the second half. That includes powerful individuals with literal life-and-death power over our protagonists that just disappear later in the book. Knowledge that seems fundamental to people in this society just isn't known to our protagonists, who are outraged when they find out, making them seem beyond naive. As the story unfolds and it becomes clear that the central issue is of conservation and sustainability of the human society and rapprochement with the beasts, the process of exploitation of the beast seems to be trivially reversed with little consequence. And a brief glimpse of other human beast-dwellers with different societies is brief and inconclusive. (The gender-imbalance of the Serrata is weird, and who/what are the Great Queens? It's implied that they have a connection to the beasts, but how does that work?)

Overall, a frustrating experience. Hugely ambitious, with so much promise, that just needed more consistency and follow-through.
Profile Image for Jamesboggie.
299 reviews20 followers
February 20, 2020
I HATE Escaping Exodus. Reading it was truly enraging. Everything that could have been enjoyable was eclipsed by the loathsome Seske. This is a story centered around an awful character the reader is supposed to like, a book that emphasizes its worst aspect.

Seske is one of the most selfish, immature, oblivious, and entitled characters I have ever encountered in any work of fiction. She infuriates me so much it’s hard to express coherently. The summation is that she wants to have her cake and eat it too, to get her way regardless of how it impacts others. She always gets her way. She never considers her actions or accounts for her ill-treatment of everyone around her. She is just as bad as any of the other Contour class aristocrats thoughtlessly perpetuating an unjust and unsustainable system. The following is a list of highlights from the sociopathic adventures of Seske:

Worst of all, the book expects the reader to like Seske. The story uses lots of manipulative tactics to extract unearned goodwill for Seske. She performs the role of a princess in a gilded cage like Jasmine in Aladdin. She’s painted as quirky and special, a rebel against an outdated system. She is portrayed as socially conscious, caring about the people other Contour class aristocrats ignore. Readers have been trained to reflexively side with characters who bear these traits.

It is all so superficial. Seske might seem like Jasmine, but she was never caged: she has always been able to do exactly as she pleases. She is not a rebel because she does not meaningfully change anything. She is not socially conscious because she does all the same selfish, unjust things as any other Contour class; she just feels really bad about it. It’s all fake and self-serving. I cannot stand a story that pressures me to side with a bad person.

The book would have redeemed itself if Adalla had taken Seske to task. Adalla has a fall from grace, and learns the truth about the worst abuses of society. Adalla could have used that experience to make Seske acknowledge her role in the unjust system and her personal abusive behavior. Instead, Adalla’s character is assassinated. She goes from a driven woman with her own goals and ambitions to a hopelessly love sick puppy of a girl. She loses all agency to Seske. I liked Adalla before she was reduced to the love interest and trophy for Seske.

I could go on and on about how much I hated Escaping Exodus. It is the worse reading experience I have had since 2018. I was really excited to read Nicky Drayden, but it will be a long time before I consider her work again.

Profile Image for Kitty G Books.
1,548 reviews2,934 followers
July 14, 2020
This is such a weird concept, but it's executed so well and I couldn't help but to find it all truly fascinating as a concept. The world we follow is the inside of a giant space dwelling beast. This creature is the home to a whole civilisation of humans, in this case they're all people of colour, and largely dominated by females, however they're not the only beast-dwellers in space.

What I thought most interesting about this was the biological elements. The civilisation live in the cavities and organs of the giant beast, doing what they can to trick its body into working as a home for them. They have to cut out tumours, reshape sections, and keep it at a fever pitch to keep the climate acceptable. The whole of the working class works on the beast and its day to day needs. There are some pretty graphic scenes and definitely this isn't for the squeamish, but I found it all very cool and different.

The main characters of this book are vastly different in terms of their lives and their stations. One is the heiress to the beast throne whilst the other strives to work on the most important organ, the heart. They have been best friends for their whole lives, but as we meet them their relationship is starting to change and go beyond that. However, the pressure of their society will try to keep them apart, and the two girls must see if they can continue even a friendship with the pressure of the world. The f/f relationship I thought was a great focus and although I disliked Seske for the way she treats Abella, I enjoyed their tale of discovering themselves and one another.

The society is vastly different to anything I've seen before and the storytelling felt fluid and enjoyable throughout. I definitely believed in the world and it's trials and mishaps, and I'd certainly want to read more by this author now. I am very pleased there's a sequel coming next year!

Final rating 4*s and definitely a 'new-to-me' author I want to explore further.
Profile Image for Thistle & Verse.
298 reviews76 followers
November 17, 2020
Video review here: https://youtu.be/rwf7zK9bl1c
I got an ARC in exchange for a review. Opinions are my own. Drayden has created an imaginative playground of a world that allows her to showcase her strengths: her creativity and her humor. I was fascinated by the social orders and mechanics of the beast described within the book. The chemistry between Seske/ Adalla and their rival love interests was believable, and I became heavily invested in certain relationships working out. While the narrators Seske and Adalla felt like fully fleshed out, distinct human beings, some of the side characters felt flat or trope-y. There was one antagonist and a side character in particular who I felt like could have easily been given more depth, and I wanted to know more about but didn't. Book includes some social commentary, and while the basics of this alternate society (polyamorous, matriarchal, utilitarian) were believable to me, some of the commentary felt forced or heavy handed because it seemed too based in our world and not the one Drayden had created. The ending felt a bit muddled and rushed to me, but on the whole, an immersing, highly enjoyable read.
Profile Image for tappkalina.
642 reviews395 followers
August 2, 2022
Definitely the weirdest and probably the most imaginative book I've ever read, and I enjoyed it quite a lot.

I guess it can be read as a standalone, but I'm interested to know where the story goes next.
Profile Image for Tammie.
318 reviews563 followers
March 6, 2021
4 stars for the first half of this book, a low 3 stars for the last half, so this is technically a 3.5 stars rounded down.

For the first 50% of this book, I thought this was going to be a new favourite. I adored both our POV characters, their relationship, polyamory, the matriarchal society, the environmentalist themes - this book has so many things that I loved.

However, I think it falls short on a couple of fronts. Firstly, I think the side characters were generally just not as well-developed as I would've liked. One character in particular felt like they did a complete 180 at around the 75% mark, which just felt really jarring. Secondly, and probably more importantly as I think perhaps some of the charcter issues I had were a result of this, is that the pacing in the second half of the book was all over the place. I did feel like there were some pacing issues and jarring time skips throughout the book, but it really didn't bother me until the last half. And then to top it all off, the ending wrapped up in about 20 pages (I read this on e-book so don't quote me on how many actual pages that was), and just felt really rushed. Some side characters and side plotlines were just completely discarded, and just left me feeling unsatisfied.

I think if this book had been about 50-100 pages longer, it would've been so so good. I would've loved to see certain characters, plotlines, and relationships fleshed out more. I know there is a sequel, and I'm definitely still interested in it, but I was disappointed by the second half of this book.

All that being said, I think this is a really good book. It's easy to read, and almost has this kind of dark humour that I really enjoyed. Thematically, it also packs a punch with the matriarchy (and its commentary on the patriarchy of our society), the caste system, and environmentalism. I would definitely still highly recommend it, especially if any of those themes speak to you, or if you're looking for a good sapphic sci-fi.
Profile Image for torin_kylara.
202 reviews1 follower
December 1, 2019
DNF around Chp 5

Oh, I am so sad. I really, really, really thought I could just ignore the reviews and enjoy this, because it clicks all the buttons I wanted it to click, at least as far as the description goes. Unfortunately, the book itself is, shall we say, flawed?

Well okay, even that is probably a bit too far even. This book is probably for somebody, that somebody just isn't me.

To start, I have a problem with books that act like scifi but are really just excuses for fantasy things to happen. If I said they lived in a matriarchal village in ye-olden made-up time period, and lived off a giant fantasy beast, it would give you the exact same plot, with almost nothing changed. But that's my own personal pet peeve.

The real problem, in my opinion, is that the book is marketed as feminist when it is so the opposite of that!

Let me say it loud for all the kids in the back, just in case they can't hear:

Just Because Your Book Has a Female MC or a Matriarchal Society, DOES NOT Make It Feminist!

This book uses those themes to give us an incredibly sexist book from the other way around. Women aren't seen as coming into power because they've earned their place in this society, they just inherit it. Just like our patriarchy rewards men simply because they're men, this one rewards women simply because they're women. This is not progress people! This is the opposite of that!

Now, in the author's defense, maybe she didn't know that that is how her publishers would choose to market her book and she intended for it to be a meditation on what if the power was reversed, and if that's something you find interesting, then definitely give this one a read. You'll probably like it. But that is just not something I can find myself getting into, most especially after I already tried jumping in thinking it was going to be all progressive and whatnot.

So sorry, I tried to like it, I really did, but I could not.
Profile Image for WillowRaven.
183 reviews91 followers
May 3, 2020
4.5 out of 5 stars

This was an *exceptionally* enjoyable, delightful, engaging book. It was the first time I had read something by this author however I was so impressed by it that I plan on checking out her other works. The story line is well thought out, the characters have depth and you find yourself almost instantly drawn in to their lives, the drama and the inner workings of living out in space. The author has done a fine job of creating her own "fantasy" world, complete with it's own universe/atmosphere and even some of it's own language which is beautifully and creatively detailed. The chapters - which average around 15 pages (however some are significantly smaller and a few are a bit larger) - switch between the viewpoints of the 2 main characters, Seske and Adalla. For anyone who is looking for a well written book with a sci-fi feel and it's own background which is supporting a very original story, you may find that you really enjoy this book.

In closing, I wish to say that I won this book during a GoodReads giveaway. While a review is requested, it is not required. I give this honest review of my own accord. I also wish to thank the author and publisher for allowing me this opportunity to read this book - I am both appreciative and grateful.
Profile Image for Angela.
389 reviews805 followers
September 27, 2021
Video Review (Spoiler Free): https://youtu.be/iLswE3eJpyQ

Actual Rating: 4.5/5

I knew the minute I started this book during online reading sprints that it would be another Nicky Drayden that I would love it, and I was right. I was prepared for the cool world building based on reviews but I was not ready to be so invested in the plights of the main characters and the mysteries they would uncover. Throw in some forbidden love tropes and even more cool world building and it was a fantastic time. My only complaint is I think the ending wrapped up a bit too quickly, I would have been happy stretching that out a bit but otherwise I loved the themes, the story ad characters which is really all I ever want from a reading experience!
Profile Image for Sunny.
647 reviews3,316 followers
February 13, 2022
lesbian matriarchal beast ship tentacle space sex slay…. kind of like Ursula le guin meets an unkindness of ghosts by River Solomon, except more flat writing and characterization and less engrossing
Profile Image for Christine Sandquist.
183 reviews59 followers
October 14, 2019
This review and others can be read on my blog, Black Forest Basilisks.

I love weird, squishy, biological scifi, and I was impressed by how perfectly Escaping Exodus delivered on this front. When I originally read the premise on Goodreads – “a city-size starship carved up from the insides of a space-faring beast” – I knew I had to get my hands on this book. I’ll admit that I came in feeling a hint of trepidation: what if the beast is relegated to being in the background? What if it’s a normal spaceship that’s only “alive” when it’s plot convenient? Etc., etc. Fortunately, we were wading through ichor and entrails from the very first page. My worries were utterly baseless. Nicky Drayden embraced every bit of icky organic goodness right from the start.

The novel opens on one of our protagonists, Seske, cutting herself free from a cocoon filled with stasis fluid, and we only get squishier and more organic from there. Seske is the daughter of the Matris – the matriarch and leader of her culture and nation aboard the space beast. Her love interest and our other point of view character, Adala, comes from a long line of heart workers – literally, the families in charge of maintaining the beast’s heart by cutting away sores, lesions, and pests from the beast’s flesh to keep it healthy for its inhabitants. Adala has been trained from birth for this position, and her family’s legacy is braided into her hair to show the generations that came before her. However, she’s not guaranteed a position in the heart; the standards are both high and harsh, due to the great dangers involved in working in that particular organ. Every time the heart beats, the beast’s vein flood with ichor… washing away anyone who did not properly count the time between beats and who didn’t manage to cut a slit into the sides of the beast’s innards to anchor themselves against the flow.

‘Instinctually, I hold my breath, as we had done so many times during practice, though from the gasping all around me, not everyone has been so thoughtful. The oily flow grips at me, bids me to get washed away. I hug that little strip of flesh like it’s my closest friend, hoping my cut holds just a few seconds longer. But in all my fear, all my dread, something springs forth in my heart… a feeling that I’m in a place I’ve belonged all my life.’

Despite these careful ministrations, acting as a host to a full civilization is incredibly stressful on the beast’s internal systems. Typically, the beasts begin to die after around 7-10 years, at which point they must move to a new one. The beast herds do not reproduce quickly enough to keep up with the demand for Seske’s ship and the other nations inhabiting them, which results in strife amongst the various space-beast-faring civilizations.

The political and familial structures on the beast are fascinating, and the reader is shoved into them with little explanation. The social order is structured as a matriarchy, with Seske’s mother, the Matris, being in charge… with Seske in line to inherit, but at odds with her illegitimate and nameless sister, who has her own goals and plans to capture the throne. Sisterkin is not allowed to be a part of the family, but she’s Matris’ own biological child. Matris favors her given this blood connection, even if Seske is her heir by law. Sisterkin, as she is called, plots and schemes to take what she views as her rightful place within the ship’s hierarchy.

‘Sisterkin steps between us. “I can guide you, Seske. I know all the ways of the Matriarchy, all the Lines.” She smiles, though the gesture is more like the baring of teeth, the too-white teeth that haunt children’s dreams. Though she was born of Matris’s blood, she is not a part of our family and has no claim to our lines. As per the tenets of our ancestors, she cannot partake of our family teas, so she sips hot water from her dainty cups instead. Our head-father is not permitted to teach her, so Matris hires private tutors. Sisterkin is not allowed at our table, so Mother had an archipelago built where Sisterkin can dine with us without dining with us. Her hair grows freely upon her head, like a boundless sunburst, not the carefully braided knots of our line. Sisterkin has been given nothing, not even a true name. Sisterkin was Matris’s first abomination, and now there’s this surly beast she’s chosen.’

Due to population concerns, the family units are large; each child has ten people considered their parents/family unit. Many terms, often left unexplained, are thrown at the reader. Even after finishing, I’m not entirely clear on what constitutes a heart mother, a will mother, or a tin uncle. It’s a little too opaque at times and the roles are not fully explained, though it certainly adds great flavor to the story. Science fiction and fantasy provide so many opportunities for authors to play with social structure, and far too few authors take advantage of that flexibility; it’s not an idea that can be explored to nearly the same degree in contemporary or historical fiction. It’s unique to SFF, and it brings me joy every time I see it.

Given the matriarchal structure of the society, the narrative surrounding feminism is flipped. It is the men in this society who lack for power and political clout. They are expected to paint their faces, stay quiet, be seen but not heard. They cannot appear to have any power over the women in their lives, who are expected to know better and be the dominant personality. At one point, Seske is performing a bit of political espionage dressed up as a man; she notes how she’s culturally invisible, isn’t allowed into the same spaces as a woman, and discovers constraints on male behavior she didn’t even know existed.

‘I blink. My eyelids are so heavy, holding up to a dozen tiny gemstones each. My whole body feels like I’ve been dunked in slime, but my, how I glisten. I’ve never felt so bold, so beautiful. Doka made me practice my walk while mimicking his gestures. He spoke of calling upon the honor of my patriline, and now I am enjoying the fruits of my toil, no longer Seske Kaleigh, but Sesken Pmalamar, son of fathers.’

There are many small touches in the prose that created a distinct voice for each of the different castes aboard the ship. The prose is neither purple nor workmanlike, but instead focuses on reflecting the social order of each character. The vernacular of the boneworkers is separate from the jargon of the heartworkers, and the speech of the Contour Class citizens at the top is refined and somewhat archaic-sounding in comparison. These details pull in the reader and highlight the differences between each social echelon – at the lowest level, the disposable grisette workers aren’t even allowed to speak with individuals outside their own class. As Adala is forced between these different groups, she encounters not only these linguistic differences, but also differences in how touch, privacy, and personal space are viewed.

‘I’m pulled into their rough huddle, laughing, joking, trying to seem like I’m relaxing, while studying their body cues and posture so I can learn to speak and act and think like they do.’

The primary issue in this book is not that any plot line or cultural aspect was uninteresting, but rather that I felt none of them quite got the attention they deserved. A few key plot points felt a little half-baked, requiring some convoluted and out of character decisions to bring them about. Oftentimes, the situations Seske or Adala found themselves in or the decisions they made didn’t make much sense to me – it seemed like their decisions were driven by the plot rather than the plot being driven by their decisions. The precise point of the book was ambiguous, with too many aspects competing for attention. Was this a book about diminishing resources for generation ships? Was this a book about sexism? Was this a book about conservation? Or perhaps this was a book about political machinations? It was hard to tell what the author cared about most. If each aspect had been fully fleshed out, the novel would have felt significantly more cohesive and engaging. Many plot threads were left dangling or were hand-waved away as “solved!” in the conclusion without adequate supporting narrative. That said, the overall setting and structure of the book was more than enough to compensate for these issues, and the book as a whole was incredibly enjoyable and touched on many great ideas I haven’t seen presented in quite this way before.

This book is an excellent choice for anyone hankering for a thoughtful look at discrimination in our own society wrapped up in a wonderfully biological package. Fans of Kameron Hurley’s Bel Dame Apocrypha or Wildbow’s Twig web serial will find much to love in this exciting new afrofuturism addition to the biopunk genre.

If you enjoyed this review, please consider reading others like it on my blog, Black Forest Basilisks.
Profile Image for Andy.
2,360 reviews185 followers
January 28, 2023
This was wild, but I had a lot of fun listening to it.

Rep: Black bisexual cis female MC, Black lesbian cis female MC, Black trans male side character, Black cast, polyamorous and queer-normative world.

CWs: Body horror, animal cruelty, animal death, death, gore, violence, blood, pregnancy, murder, sexism, injury/injury detail, child abuse, child death, emotional abuse, genocide, physical abuse. Moderate: sexual content, slavery, medical content, grief, chronic illness, toxic relationship, misogyny, racism, xenophobia.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,862 reviews1,897 followers
December 22, 2020
22 December 2020 Update This delight is $1.99 on Kindle today!

Real Rating: 4.5* of five

Many thanks to the author and HarperVoyager for my ARC.

I know the author of this book for like fifteen years now. She's got a dry wit, a generous heart, and a deeply subversive soul. This is by way of explaining how I know that, in this twisty and turny story of siblings very much at odds with each other and very deeply enmeshed in each others' psyches, she's explained us to ourselves.

What happens when your intimate enemy, the charismatic and popular one to your quieter, more thorough self, challenges your position? As with all stories of intimate enemies, this is the beginning of the end, and the series of books that will follow depends on hooking you with this cataclysm. Like every blockbuster series in fantasy, Author Drayden sets the stakes high, limns the characters indelibly and economically, and gets you ready for an action-packed ride through a world you'd swear was real.

As book two, Symbiosis, expands the story of how love screws things up for everyone, becomes available on 23 February 2021, it's time to take advantage of this book's sale price to decide if you need to preorder the next. I'm pretty confident a lot of you will need to know how this plays out.
Profile Image for Lata.
3,509 reviews187 followers
January 14, 2020
3.5 stars. Squelchy, bloody....this book has many moments when I thought “ew!” thanks to all the biological tech the people on board the beast, a massive creature moving through space, have developed over generations of travel. The matrilineal society is complex with different classes from the rulers all the way down to the lowest labourers, elaborate rituals and dress, and many roles within each family.
The story concerns two young women from different classes, who start as friends and grow to feel so much more for each other. This plays out against political wrangling, murder, beast-based mysteries, diminishing capability of their beast, and the young women struggling against the restrictions placed on them by their positions in the society.
Like her first book, I was impressed with Nicki Drayden’s inventiveness and the sheer bonkers aspect of parts of the story. I found I wasn’t always clear on some parts of the plot, which hinges, at times, on societal rules; that said, I did like the book, even with its sometimes confusing elements.
Profile Image for Sana.
1,076 reviews956 followers
Shelved as 'anti-library'
December 24, 2020
Profile Image for Alan.
1,086 reviews106 followers
May 15, 2021
"How many fingers am I holding up behind my back now?" I say.
"One," he says with a sigh. "And it's most inappropriate."

I'm going to tell you right up front that I was already a big Nicky Drayden fan, well before I picked up Escaping Exodus. Her prose is always fluid, breezy and intimate, with a fresh and exotic feel infused by Drayden's experiences in South Africa. And the stories she likes to tell are the kind of sf I like to read: speculative fictions, as opposed to "hard" SF—internally consistent, but not terribly hung up on scientific plausibility.

Our histories lie in rubble, buried upon a dead
rock spinning under a forgotten sky. Our futures
lie in waiting, buried within this magnificent beast
traversing the stars we now call home.

—Matris Otoasa, 438 years after Exodus

Escaping Exodus begins with the epigram above. Earth has long been lost... but humanity perseveres. We've taken to the stars, no longer bound to a single planetary surface... but we haven't done it alone. People—the only people who are left, anyway—now ride through space as hitchhikers inside gigantic star-traveling beasts, exotic biosystems each capable of supporting thousands of people. (In my own—unfinished, unpublished—efforts along these lines, I called 'em "starwhales".)

In a word: human beings are parasites... and not especially benign ones, either. Being infested by humans isn't all that good for an organism's health, as it turns out—the "Exodus" in Escaping Exodus refers not just to humanity's long-ago departure from Earth, but more urgently to the all-too-frequent need for these clans to leave one dying beast and capture a fresh one from the herd.

Like I said: parasites.

Escaping Exodus remains true to its setting; it's relentlessly biological. Squishy. Moist. If you enjoyed the rot, decay, filth and bodily fluids in Kameron Hurley's The Stars Are Legion, for example, then this book (and its sequel Symbiosis) will be right up your... erm, you'll like these, too. (The phrase appears on p.263. Don't say I didn't warn you!)


What do you do when you discover that, for centuries, your whole society has been profiting from ancient atrocities that no one wants to acknowledge? It's hard to believe that the folks who dwell in the belly (and organs, ducts, and interstices) of these beasts don't know... but when you do find out—when the reality slaps you unmistakably in the face—don't you think you'd try to stop the atrocities that are still going on?

I mean, seriously... how stupid could a species be, to trash its entire world for short-term gain?

It strikes me that Escaping Exodus as a whole is nothing less than an allegory—and if Nicky Drayden doesn't know exactly what she's doing here, I'll eat my "Keep Portland Weird" bumper sticker.


All that subtext takes place in the background, though. In the foreground are two vivid viewpoint characters: Seske Kaleigh, the Matriling (and Matris-to-be) of an intricately-constructed matrilineal society whose pieces fit together plausibly even when they diverge significantly from Earthbound examples, and Beastworker Adalla, who is absolutely, positively, nothing more than Seske's childhood friend. Adalla has no plans to become Seske's wife—her great ambition is to serve the beast's heart, helping it maintain its rhythmic beat, once every three minutes and forty-seven seconds.

Despite their social differences, though—or perhaps because of them—Seske and Adalla become catalysts for change to a system that's persisted for centuries...


This review has been woefully delayed, I must admit, but not by any lack of appreciation for the work. Nicky Drayden's lively SF doesn't play by the usual rules. I enjoy it immensely. And I think Escaping Exodus is my favorite Drayden book to date.
Profile Image for The Captain.
1,067 reviews359 followers
November 11, 2019
Ahoy there me mateys!  I received this sci-fi eARC from Goodreads Giveaways.  Arrrrr!  In return I will write an honest review.  So here are me honest musings . . .

I have been meaning to read this author's work for a while now.  I heard about this book from Matey Sarah.  The gorgeous cover and the mention of the spaceship being "insides of a spacefaring beast" is what made me click this cover and enter the giveaway.  And then I won!  This book was quite an experience.  I really enjoyed this introduction to the author's writing with some quibbles.

I loved:

- The ship of course!  I enjoyed the concept of the ship being inside a live creature and how organic it felt.  People worked or lived in all areas of the ship from the heart to the stomach to the rectum.  Ichor, fluids, wastes, etc. are described in (sometimes icky) detail.  The ship felt alive and real.
The world building - Besides the awesome ship, I liked getting some backstory into how the society, politics, and culture of the ships had changed over the generations.

- The familial structures - I really liked the idea of the matriarchal political structures and how each child was raised by multiple adults of both genders.  I thought the significance constellations and family lines in terms of hair-braiding was cool.

- The characters - I particularly enjoyed the character of Adala and kinda wish she had been the main focus.  She had the most interesting character development and I loved watching her grow into her own person.

- The diversity - I loved that this story focused on the black experience and had f/f, and polyamorous in addition to hetero-normative relationships.

- I loved the other ships in the fleet and differences that entailed.  I wouldn't have minded more exploration of these issues.

I didn't love:

- The main character - While I was cheering for Seske in the beginning, she wore on me by the end.  She felt resourceful and yet did not live up to her earlier potential.

- The characters in general - Besides the main couples, ye really did not get enough of a feel for any of the other people onboard.  They felt a little two-dimensional.

- The writing structure - The majority of the book was engrossing and fun.  But towards the end, a lot of the story fell apart and shattered me verisimilitude.  Characters acted in manners contrary to earlier behavior, several major plot lines were dropped (rebellion, embryos, sisterkin), and the resolution just felt rushed.  This book should have either been restructured a bit to remove the dangling plot points or made into a duology to better explore some of the issues involved.

- The romance - I did not enjoy how the f/f romance turned out at all.  It was too convenient and unbelievable.

- Alien tentacle sex.  Aye, I was warned about it so it didn't shock me but there were several different plot choices that could have been made that would have a) made more sense; and b) furthered the narrative in a more appropriate fashion.  Alternatively the author could have made the ship more alien and its motives more mysterious to the protagonists but that choice would have changed the tone to more of erotic body horror maybe.

A lot of me thoughts about the ending are summed up in Matey Nella's review:

"the problem . . . is the lack of catharsis. We have this huge amount of build-up - complex, flawed characters with complicated dynamics, and a beautifully created world - and then shit hits the fan and everything get Bad, and none of it gets the time needed for a satisfactory finish. The last third of the book feels almost like checking off a list, with way too much stuff that doesn't get properly dealt with."

That said, I am glad I got this book and was able to read it because the ship itself was so cool.

So lastly . . .

Thank you Goodreads Giveaways and Harper Voyager!
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