THE BLUE-SPANGLED BLUE by David Bowles

The Blue-Spangled Blue
(The Path, Book 1)
By David Bowles
Castle Bridge Media — March 2021
ISBN: 978173647260
— Paperback — 452 pp.


I completed The Blue Spangled Blue awhile back, intending this review to go up on Skiffy & Fanty. But, I now have several reviews sent there that haven’t been edited and posted, and as the months pass I figured it’s best to just get it up here. The Blue-Spangled Blue is an ambitious and complex novel, an epic space opera that serves as merely the opening for a series that seems to be tackling weighty themes of family and religion. And it’s a novel that deserves to get some more notice.

Normally I compose my own version of plot summaries to fit in with the thoughts I have on a book, but in this case the official blurb suits just fine and would be easier to employ:

Tenshi Koroma’s people, the Aknawajin, were brought to the planet Jitsu as workers more than a century ago. Against all odds, they managed to win their independence from the world’s corporate owners. During a long period of isolation, a theocratic government arose, dominated by fundamentalist views. Now, as Jitsu begins to open itself to the rest of humanity, Tenshi—a controversial architect and leader of a religious reform movement—meets Brando D’Angelo, who has left Earth to accept a teaching position on Jitsu. As the two grow closer, Tenshi begins to teach Brando about her faith—The Path—and he decides to accept its tenets, to shatter his identity and rebuild himself with her guidance so that he can be worthy of a soul.

But the dogmatic struggles on Jitsu are a mask for the machinations of a diabolical mind, and the couple’s life will be forever altered by the cruelty of Tenshi’s enemies. In the aftermath, their family will find a perilous new Way along The Path. And their steps will echo throughout history.

The Blue-Spangled Blue shimmers in a diversity of cultural palettes: ethnicities, class, politics, languages, religion, and more. The religious aspect of cultural is central here, and represents the major thread of character development in the novel in the form of Brando. It’s both a philosophy or outlook and a purpose of action, even when those set Brando further apart from his own family and traditions.

I really appreciated the core facet of religion to Bowles novel. Religion is very frequently overlooked across genres, and when it does appear, including in something like space opera, it tends to be treated in primarily negative lights, or with clichés and ignorance. Bowles approaches the subject with respect, and puts as much world building into this aspect of a society’s culture as into other elements.

He doesn’t simplify things. Bowles depicts cultural practices as complex systems, mixtures that contain both conflicting aspects and principles that could unify. The cultural mixture becomes most evident in Bowles use of language with his characters, a mélange of terms from across current human cultures along with additions of speculative futuristic ones. He highlights how cultural clashes can engender strife – whether arising between two separate people or arising from within the spectrum of belief and practice of one people. And he also shows the power of cross-cultural alliances, symbolized in the relationship between Brando and Tenshi.

The complexities of The Blue-Spangled Blue‘s world building, and its host of characters make this an epic space opera novel. And that’s something that might also cause problems for some readers. There’s a lot to digest here. This could have easily been multiple novels in itself. Epic reads aren’t necessarily out of the norm for speculative fiction fans.

What might make things difficult in this case are issues of pacing, the one significant negative critique I would make of the novel. There are many chapters of exhilarating action, and slower ones of plotting or establishing the narrative framework. With the novel encompassing so many developments and interludes, however, there are stretches that seem to drag. The reader anticipates that things could come to a head. When things do, they don’t quite go as one may have expected. Resolution isn’t really there, it’s just an opening to more possibilities and new paths. It can end up feeling a little overwhelming.

However, I will say that going through those feelings (if they are there during reading) are well worth it. Bowles does not pull punches with the novel, with reader hopes or assumptions of who might live or die, whether heroes or villains are victorious. This lends a mature realism to the novel, while also allowing Bowles to show how strength to go on can be mustered from something like faith, even against all odds and setbacks, or powerful enemies lurking in the shadows.

The ambition of The Blue-Spangled Blue in depicting a complex, speculative human future with space opera plotting, and audaciously tackling politics and religion makes this is a notable novel in the genre to read. The execution has some issues, but any fans of epic genre fiction should be encouraged to take it on.

Newer editions of the novel helpfully include a series of invaluable appendices: 1) A glossary of terms; 2) A lexicon of foreign phrases in Baryogo and Kaló; 3) a Dramatis personae; 4) a break-down of star systems and their associated planets; 5) background on Jitsu’s official religion, The Path, and its adherents.

The story continues in The Deepest Green, also available from Castle Bridge Media, and another The Swirling Path, seems to be due in 2023. The latter is listed on Goodreads as Book 4 of The Path, which I assume is an error, as no Book 3 is listed at all, and I can find no mention of any other book in the series on the publisher’s site.