FeaturedSpace Opera

Metal Bones


Loved it! 😍

Two brothers fleeing Earth and a strong alien on a mission cross paths in this science fiction novel about disease, loyalty, and corruption.

I keep a little stuffed animal version of Grunt from the Mass Effect video game series on my reading chair at home. I've always been drawn to the "muscle" characters in science fiction stories, the strong sidekicks who accompany the smart scientists and dashing adventurers--the creatures who get by with brute force. I enjoyed Kathleen Contine's action-driven speculative novel Metal Bones for many reasons, but mostly because she lets a muscle character take the lead. One of the main heroes of Metal Bones is an intimidating alien called a Sovich--a big, scaly being with a tail and a perfect name: Tank. As if I already didn't love this enough, he's soon equipped with an arm cannon.

But Tank's story isn't our only narrative: allow me to back up for a second. We're first introduced to two brothers, the 21-year-old protective older sibling Leo Spearman and his younger counterpart 19-year-old Gaeth. Gaeth has been infected with a horrible virus called "Steel Elbow" that gradually turns the sufferer's bones into metal. Unfortunately, this virus is contagious; when a neighbor contracts the disease from Gaeth, Leo is forced to ferry his brother away from Earth to a place called Oblurn. Oblurn is touted as the perfect community where Steel Elbow patients can live out their lives in safety (it was even created by the guy who accidentally created the virus itself, Dr. Oswald Moon). However, it quickly becomes apparent that there's something majorly off about Oblurn. When Leo and Gaeth flee to New Star City, a hotbed of crime and corruption, they're quickly recruited by Vanish--a woman who runs a resistance group called Onyx--to help fight the powerful Sol Empire.

Alongside this narrative runs the story of Tank. Tank is on his home planet Whukogantu, training to participate in a dangerous contest called The Ceremony--once young Sovichs come of age, they compete (often to the death) for a necklace, and the winner gets to leave on a pilgrimage. Tank wants to win so he can find his long lost father; instead, he ends up escaping Whukogantu after uncovering a shocking secret about his planet's leadership. He's taken in by a woman named Enzu Ruba--the CEO of luxury spaceship manufacturer Bisekt, which makes ships for the Sol Empire--and employed as a bodyguard for her adopted son Myca. So, what will happen when the characters from these two narratives collide?

Contine's novel moves fast enough and contains enough youthful characters to appeal to the YA audience. Honestly, what the narrative reminded me of the most is a great D&D campaign. The characters plan and train and get into scrapes that often go badly, while at the same time they're learning and growing and developing new understandings and allegiances. Contine's characters are all memorable and unique: I haven't even mentioned Scril, a cockroach-like alien called a Kekzin with a smart mouth and a bad gambling habit, or Naf, a weaker strangely orange-colored Sovich who Tank takes under his wing. Final word: given the ending, I'm hoping there's a sequel.

Reviewed by

Michelle Hogmire is a West Virginian writer with an MFA in Fiction from Columbia University. She's the co-founder of the Appalachian publication The Haint. Her work has been featured in Rampant Magazine, BOMB, KGB Bar Lit Mag, & Columbia Journal. She's currently finishing her first book in Chicago.

Chapter 1

About the author

Kathleen Contine is a New York-born author currently working on her next novel. Inspired by her love of reading and frequent trips to the library with her mom as a child, Kathleen graduated from Saint Leo University with a B.A. in English with a concentration in professional writing. view profile

Published on March 17, 2020

Published by

70000 words

Contains mild explicit content ⚠️

Genre: Space Opera

Reviewed by